To publish…

A photo of what is called a “die-in” at the Silent Protest held at Wits on August 17 was featured on the front page of the Wits Vuvuzela. As in every newsroom, the right to publish the picture or not was fiercely debated. Two of our journalists, Candice Wagener, who took the photo, and Tebogo Tshwane, who also covered the protest, state their opposing views on the decision. (more…)

Silent protest breaks the silence on sexual abuse

Wits students took a stand against sexual violence Wednesday, showing solidarity for survivors and raising awareness.

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Witsies marched in solidarity at the Wits silent protest on Wednesday, lead by the organisers. Photo: Valerie Robinson.


Sexual abuse, violence and rape is something that is a reality. The person sitting next to you in class could be a victim or a perpetrator. This week’s silent protest took a stand to break the cycle of silence.

A 3rd Year Law student speaking to WitsVuvuzela told how she was raped at a party in March this year. The person was not a stranger but rather one of her boyfriend’s friends. “I am doing this to break the cycle. Knowing I have a voice, and other women have a voice” she said.

One of the major issues the protest dealt with is the ‘shaming’ that takes place, when the victim might want to report it.

The student said when she reported it to the police their response was, because there was alcohol involved it simply comes down to her word against his.

A second Wits honours student also told her story of Sexual abuse. She was subject to sexual abuse by someone very close to her over an extended period of time. The abuse began when she was just 11 years old.

Unlike the first student she did not report the incident to the authorities. She said she was too ashamed and insecure to be able to talk about it.

Neither of the students sought any type of counselling.  Bertrand Leopeng, an event organiser and an intern psychologist working at the CCDU said that they are starting a rape survivors group at the CCDU in order to accommodate students who require it.

The dean of students, Dr Pamela Dube, addressed the crowd at the start of the march, on Wednesday.

Reading a letter from one of the founders of the protest she said, “The testimony by survivors is eerily similar, whether it comes from a second year Wits student, or from a 70 year old Umlazi pensioner. All the stories speak of fear, of shame, of hopelessness. Very few of the stories feature the police, hardly any end with jail time for the perpetrators.”

Silence is Golden

 Valerie Robinson

The silent protest  will take place on August 19 at the Flower Hall. Photo: Provided

The silent protest will take place on August 19 at the Flower Hall. Photo: Provided

Next weekWits will host its third Silent Protest. The University has been hosting the event which takes a stand against rape, sexual abuse and any type gender based violence since 2013.

“Overall in South Africa, such a shocking number of rapes go unreported. And the ones that do get reported aren’t actually picked up by police, you know the kind of victim blaming” saysBertrand Leopeng, one of the event organisers and an intern phycologist working at the CCDU.

The creators of the initiative at Rhodes University held their version of the protest this past weekend, showing their solidarity over a three day period. It has since spread to other universities such as UKZN and UCT.

2013 was a shocking year at Wits University; multiplelecturers at the university were accused of sexual harassment.  This as one of the reasons students at Wits decided to host this initiative according to Leopeng.

“Those are only some of the reported cases. Thankfully action was taken and our VC moved pretty quickly to make sure Wits is declared a safe zone” saidLeopeng.

“Coming into women’s month, it’s a good time to highlight these types of things. Because you know women’s day it’s kind of a day that is supposed to be about the celebration of women’s rights and things like that, but these things take place year round and we are just trying to amplify it.”

Wits’ silent protest is also taking place over three days. Next week Wednesday is the most active and visible of them all.

“Anybody who wants to participate in the protest can click on the link on the wits silent protest Facebook page. From there they will be asked to choose from a selection of three shirts that will be available on the day” said Leopeng.

Thesign up is free of charge, and allows you to choose a shirt saying either “solidarity”, “survivor” or “silenced.” Members that want to have their mouths taped can also take part in the taping ceremony. According to Leopengthis “symbolizes the silencing that takes place every day when it comes to rape survivors. They can also come to the CCDU, we have our own sign ups there.”

On the day sign-ups are also welcome but there is no guarantee of shirts.

Knowing the true mission behind the initiative is also key, said Leopeng. “Often people get confused and they think that a silent protest is about reporting rape and sexual violence but the thing is if you are going to be reporting it to police who are going to be shaming you”.

Survivors fear speaking at Silent Protest

Silent Protest

Protesters marched silently across campus in solidarity with rape survivors. Photo: Roxanne Joseph

A fear of speaking out may have been the reason fewer rape survivors signed up to participate in this year’s Silent Protest, according to event coordinator Lauren Gmeiner, a psychologist and community advisor at Wits.

Gmeiner said there was more openness about the issue of sexual violence because of heavy coverage of sexual harassment issues at Wits in the media during the time of last year’s Silent Protest.

This year’s Silent Protest, an event to raise awareness of sexual violence, had only a handful of women participating who were rape survivors.

“Perhaps this is because of last year’s climate,” Gmeiner said. “Last year, there was a lot of sexual harassment, but this year people are afraid to speak out again.”

“We are pledging solidarity and are here to say that enough is enough.”

Gmeiner said that despite disappearing from newspaper headlines, sexual violence remained a serious issue for Wits and South Africa. Only one in nine survivors of rape report their attacks, according to the Rape Crisis Centre.

“This is significant because the numbers are huge,” said Gmeiner. “We are saying that we are not here to victim-blame or stigmatise.”

Nearly a thousand students and staff signed up for the event, said Gmeiner, with dozens marching silently with their mouths taped shut to represent the silence surrounding sexual violence.

Some wore t-shirts which read “sexual violence = silence” in solidarity of survivors. Others wore t-shirts reading “rape survivor”.

Though the event did not have as many survivors of sexual violence speaking out, there were more men attending than last year.

“We are pledging solidarity and are here to say that enough is enough,” said Bongani Ntshimgila, a masters student in drama.

2nd year BA student Rosa Elk had her mouth taped shut during today's Silent Protest. Photo: Roxanne Joseph

2nd year BA student Rosa Elk had her mouth taped shut during today’s Silent Protest. Photo: Roxanne Joseph

This year, theatre group Drama for Life partnered with the Wits Counselling and Careers Development Unit to assist on the day by ensuring that all participants felt supported, according to Faith Busika, a masters student in drama therapy.

“We have come in to support the protest, particularly the holding of space and well-being of people,” she said.

The day began early this morning when students met outside the Great Hall to have their mouths taped, collect t-shirts and have purple ribbons tied around their wrists. They were then encouraged to go about their day as normal—but with their mouths tape shut—before meeting on the Amic Deck for the silent march.

The group marched across campus before removing their tape and having a discussion of the day and a traditional “die-in” where protestors lie scattered, ending the day’s silence.




Q & A with Lisa Vetten

Lisa Vetten has been working as  a gender activist and works at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (Wiser) as an honorary research associate. Vetten has a master’s degree in political studies and has been involved in a number of research projects dealing with violence against women.
Currently her work deals with rape and the criminal justice system, as well as how to fund services that provide help to the victims of sexual violence and abuse. She is also on the Commission for Gender Equality’s section six committee as a specialist on violence against women.


In your opinion, is enough being done by society and by government to support the victims of sexual violence?

No, there’s a really big gap I think between rhetoric and reality. You will always find good police officers, good prosecutors, and good people in the bureaucracy. But I think, on balance, many don’t seem too clearly interested, some have never been trained properly, some don’t have the resources required to do the job. And some of them really have an unhelpful, sexist attitude towards their work.


In your opinion, what can be done by the police and government in general to prevent sexual violence or to help victims of sexual violence?

I think one of the difficulties is firstly that the police have a limited role in preventing rape and domestic violence. But what they can prevent is serial rape and domestic violence.

Gender Activist, Lisa Vetten. Photo provided.

Gender Activist, Lisa Vetten. Photo provided.

And one of the concerns has been that the police have been sucked in by the idea that they are chiefly responsible for prevention. And you see that in the targets they set for themselves every year. And that’s really not their role.

Their role is enforcing the rule of law. So their target should rather be around things like arrest cases to court, how they can remove barriers to reporting and how they can make the criminal justice system more effective so that somebody actually thinks it’s worthwhile to go and get involved with the police and the court. Because it sucks up a good deal of your life and your time and often you get nothing out of it except humiliation.



I think it relates to the point about the police and reporting because it’s important to be able to encourage those who have been raped to be able to feel they can speak without fearing stigma and shame.

But in many ways I actually think our campaigns needs to be around “How do we get society to listen?”  It’s all very well to ask people to speak out but if people don’t listen, or if they listen in ways that blame, I think they can make the problem worse. So we would like to see more campaigns around listening.

Wits to host 2nd annual Silent Protest

The Counselling and Careers Development Unit with the Dean of Student Affairs’ Office, the Division of Student Affairs, the Wits Transformation Office, Students’ Representative Council, the Student Development and Leadership Union; and Drama for Life in the Wits School of Arts are hosting the second annual Silent Protest March on Friday, August 15.

The march condemns sexual violence of any nature and is an act of solidarity with survivors of rape. It encourages the reporting of such acts along with other institutions of higher learning to join the Silent Protest.

The protest will start at 8am and will end with speakers and a debriefing from 2.30pm.

For more information and to download the day’s programme, click here.

Sombre silence in solidarity

Protesters united at Wits University today to show their solidarity for victims of sexual violence in South Africa  in an event that took place at other universities around the country.

At 6am this morning protestors at Rhodes University in Grahamstown gathered in preparation for the Silent protest. The silent protest started at Rhodes 6 years ago where about 100 people joined. This year 1500 protesters marched from Alec Mullins at Rhodes and 1150 showed support at Wits University.

This is Wits’ first year joining in the silent protest along with UKZN, UCT and Fort Hare.

Protestors marching from the amic deck to the great hall. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Protestors marching from the amic deck to the great hall. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

The protest kicked off at 8am outside the Wits Matrix where purple t-shirts  were distributed and mouths were taped. People who were gagged were silenced and could not eat, drink or talk until they broke their silence at 3pm. The march started at the bottom of Amic Deck, proceeded down to the Commerce, Law and Management building.

The protesters then marched  up Yale road, turned left at the traffic circle, past the old mutual sports building, the matrix and Umthombo building. It then proceeded outside senate house towards Dulce and came to a stop in the senate house concourse.

During the silent procession, all that could be heard was footsteps of the marchers as they  held hands in symbolic support of each other. Saddened, red eyes could be spotted among the protestors. The thick, grey mist that loomed over campus throughout the day seemed to mirror protestors  feelings of pain and uneasiness, and an overriding sense of anxiety could be felt walking with these rape victims.

Protestors were addressed by three speakers. Lauren Gmeiner, intern psychologist at CCDU,  gave shocking statistics of sexual violence in South Africa. “ore than 65 000 sexual crimes were reported in South Africa in 2012. One out of 25 women report sexual violence to the police, according SAPS”. “Rape limits human potential – it silences them,” said Gmeiner.

A rape survivor, Tumi, spoke out about her experience of working through the psychological repercussions of sexual violence. “A woman is raped every 17 seconds in South Africa,” Tumi said.

Actress and activist, Rosie Motene spoke about her experience of physical abuse. Motene took the crowd through the traumatic encounter when she was in university and her boyfriend beat her, leaving her with a cracked rib, a blue eye, bruises and cuts.

Motene said the words of her family and friends, that “It’s not your fault, we are with you,” got her through her struggle. Motene addressed the issue of sexual violence within the university and said, “These stories were swept under the carpet for too long,” and that is the problem. Motene empahsised that students had “a right to be protected.”

“Always make sure your candle is burning bright” said Motene.

Kelly Gillespie, lecturer in the Anthropology department, spoke about sex being pleasurable and not crossing the “bright, red, neon line” of consent. Gillespie said, “ 1 in 3 women will be raped in her lifetime”.

Amid the speakers, 48 rapes between December 27, 2012 and March 14, 2013 were read out to the protestors.

The die-in was then held where people lay down on the floor in silence to give an image of how many people are affected by rape, and how many lose their lives to sexual violence.

A sense of comfort and intimacy filled the room as victims cried, held each other and supported each other. It became a safe place to speak out about their experiences.

The protest ended with  Drama 4 Life students performing a realistc skit of the psychological state of victims post-rape, and the courage it takes to remove the tape and break your silence.

Victims then broke their silence by removing the tape from the mouths and went on to a debrief where they reflected on the events of the day.


Taped mouths to make the biggest noise

The schedule of events for the silent protest at Wits. Image: Dinesh Balliah.

The schedule of events for the silent protest at Wits. Image: Dinesh Balliah.

PROTESTS of solidarity for victims of sexual violence will take centre stage next week at Wits University.

On April 19 Wits will be participate in a nationwide university campaign along with Rhodes University, University of Cape Town, University of KwaZulu-Natal and Fort Hare University, to create safe spaces for survivors to be heard.

The gathering will start on the lawns on East Campus at 8am.

Thousands are brutally raped and murdered annually while the tragedy gets lost in the numbers. Like the taped mouths, the purpose of a ‘die-in’ is to create another visual cue, allowing people to imagine the statistics. The protest asks the public to be still and imagine how many lives are lost, to become the embodiment of that loss for a short time in order to honour the dead and recommit the living to action to end the violence.

The protest is pro-survivor rather than anti-offender event. The aim of the protest is to provide a visual impact of the statistic that only one in nine people who experience sexual violence report the crime.

A ‘die-in’ will be conducted during lunch hour where all protesters gather and refocus particularly as protesters are unable to eat lunch. It is a means of showing how many people are affected by sexual violence.

Students will remove the tape on their mouths and share their stories and experiences while sharing refreshments together in a breaking of the silence.

The protest is open to the university and anyone can register to participate and support the cause. Students can register at the Counselling and Careers Development Unit (CCDU) office or the Student Development and Leadership Unit (SDLU) office where they will  receive a t-shirt and tape upon registration.

There are different ways to participate in the day-long protest. People can volunteer to be silent and wear a t-shirt with ‘sexual violence causes silence’ on the front and an explanation on the back with their mouths taped all day, no food or water allowed.

Otherwise they can wear t-shirts with ‘rape survivor’ on the front and an explanation on the back or t-shirts with ‘STOP violence against women: the power of change is in our hands’ on the front and an explanation on the back.

Crime statistics released by government reveal that more than 65000 sexual assaults were reported in South Africa in the last year. From these reports only 6.5% are successfully prosecuted and less than half of 1% of perpetrators will serve jail-time.