Former Rhodes University student to challenge judgment upholding her expulsion
A young woman’s involvement in an anti-rape protest at one of SA's top universities has turned into an academic nightmare for her.
On Monday, the high court in Makhanda will hear Yolanda Dyantyi’s latest bid to have her expulsion from Rhodes University overturned. She has been embroiled in a legal tussle with the university since 2016.
The skirmish emanated from a protest that Dyantyi — then 19 — and other students embarked on to expose males students accused of “sexual assault or violence against women” at the renowned institution. The impromptu protest spawned a movement that became known as the #RUReferenceList.
This was after 11 names — of former and current male students accused of sexually assault and violence against women at Rhodes University — were anonymously published on Facebook.
Rhodes University permanently expelled Dyantyi in November 2017 after a disciplinary hearing that found her guilty of kidnapping, assault, defamation and insubordination.
In March, the court dismissed Dyantyi’s review application and slapped her with legal costs.
Advocacy group, the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of SA (SERI), which is fighting in her corner, dismissed the disciplinary hearing that convicted her as “procedurally flawed”.
“The punishment meted out was grossly prejudicial. The terms of her expulsion have made it practically impossible for her to enrol in any other higher education institution for the foreseeable future,” said Nomzamo Zondo, SERI’s executive director.
“Rhodes University charged Ms. Dyantyi in March 2017, almost a year after the protest. The disciplinary inquiry sat between June and October 2017, however, the university’s appointed proctor postponed the portion of the inquiry pertaining to Ms Dyantyi’s case to a date on which her legal representatives were unable to attend, making it impossible for Ms. Dyantyi to present her case or to continue participating in the proceedings. Ms. Dyantyi was ultimately convicted and sanctioned in her absence.”
Zondo said Dyantyi challenged her expulsion on the grounds that she was denied the assistance of counsel as well as “any reasonable opportunity to present her case ... and after finding Ms. Dyantyi guilty based on weak evidence, the university unlawfully denied her the right to an internal review, made available to her in terms of the university’s disciplinary rules.”
Zondo said the institution only set up its sexual violence task team after the students’ protest.
“Hundreds of students took part in the protest that lasted a week. The students demanded that the university amend its rape policy, and suspend and investigate the students accused of sexual assault. Numerous other protests against gender-based violence took place at Rhodes, making similar demands. It was however, only after the #RUReferenceList protest that Rhodes University eventually took steps to address the students’ concerns.”
Dyantyi has said she is fighting for a fair trial.
“The university, through the vice-chancellor's orders, has done all they can to silence me and hold me accountable for acts I was not given the opportunity to contest. Much like the accused rapists who were given an opportunity to testify as witnesses on behalf of the university, I should be given that opportunity too,” she said.
On Sunday, the university said the “high court judgment deals specifically and thoroughly with this matter” and referred TimesLIVE to a previous statement.
“The facts in the case also warranted the Grahamstown high court granting an interdict against Ms Dyantyi in 2017,” the statement reads.
“Ms Dyantyi appealed, and lost, against the interdict at the Grahamstown high court, Supreme Court of Appeal and in a unanimous ruling by the Constitutional Court.
“Rhodes University reiterates the seriousness and urgency with which any offences involving sexual and/or gender-based violence are treated by the university. Several students have, in the last three years, been permanently excluded for offences involving sexual violence. These are in the public record.
“The university recognises and supports the right to peaceful protest, but will not condone serious violent offences in furtherance of such protest.”