The event, held at the Mbombela campus on 20 September, aimed to raise awareness and tackle issues related to gender-based violence and sexual harassment in institutions of higher education.
Addressing the audience, Professor Moses Mbewe, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Postgraduate Studies, Engagement, and Planning, emphasised that higher learning institutions have a crucial role in combatting gender-based violence. He stated, "Our role as a university extends beyond teaching and lecturing from books. We are tasked with providing a comprehensive education, particularly instilling in young men a deep respect for women and all members of society."
Professor Mbewe went on to highlight that the University of Mpumalanga mirrors broader South African society. He lamented, "Regrettably, what we witness on campus is often a reflection of the wider societal reality. Students and staff are integral parts of their communities. The issues we observe in these communities are replicated nationally and resonate within our universities and throughout all sectors of society."
He continued, "We encounter various facets of gender-based violence in our country. It is imperative that we unite against this scourge, whether in higher education, society at large, or any other arena where it festers, causing profound physical, mental, and economic harm, both in public and private spaces."
Speaking remotely from Sol Plaatjie University, Ms. Kim Maruping stressed the importance of bravery for victims of gender-based violence and urged them not to be afraid to report abuse. She firmly stated, "Never rationalise the actions of the perpetrator. Always ensure that you report it, even if it involves staff members or lecturers."
In a bid to empower victims, Ms. Maruping reassured them that they were not at fault for the violations they endured. "I want you to understand that it is not your fault that you were subjected to such a violation."
Mr. Mbongeni Mnisi, the Student Representative Council (SRC) President, expressed concern about university campuses becoming hotspots for sexual harassment and assaults. He asserted, "Sexual harassment infringes upon basic human rights and violates a person's dignity. It leaves lasting emotional scars that can detrimentally impact academic performance and lead to enduring trauma. No student should have to endure such abuse, either within or outside the campus. It is our moral duty to ensure a safe environment and confront this issue head-on."
Mr. Mnisi further advocated for the promotion of gender equality and consent within universities, stating, "As educators, students, and citizens, it is our responsibility to challenge deeply ingrained societal norms that foster an environment conducive to harassment. We must encourage open dialogues about consent, healthy relationships, and respectful conduct."
He stressed the significance of creating a supportive atmosphere that emboldens victims to seek justice and eradicate the stigma surrounding the reporting of sexual harassment incidents. He called for active bystander intervention, urging witnesses to step forward and report any form of harassment.
The event featured notable speakers such as Ms. Mbuyelo Maluleke, Chairperson of the Rainbow Alliance, and Mr. Mazwi Mgwenya from the GBV Student Association. Representatives from the local municipality, the Department of Social Services, and academics addressed issues related to sexual health, HIV, and Aids in higher education.
A poignant candle-lighting ceremony paid tribute to those who have lost their lives due to gender-based violence.
Story and pictures by Cleopatra Makhaga.