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Gender commission slams university for 'glossy' report on diversity, safety on campuses

Walter Sisulu University vice-chancellor Prof Rushiella Songca.
Walter Sisulu University vice-chancellor Prof Rushiella Songca.
Image: Ziphozonke Lushaba

The Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) has lambasted Walter Sisulu University (WSU) for misrepresenting occurrences of sexual harassment on its campuses and presenting to a hearing on gender transformation a report lacking detail.

The CGE is investigating gender transformation at tertiary institutions to monitor progress; assess internal policies, systems and equality programmes; and the effectiveness of their strategies.

At the hearing in Kempton Park on Tuesday, WSU vice-chancellor Prof Rushiella Songca reported no incidents between 2019 and 2023.

However, in 2020 the university resorted to employing only female security guards at its residences after an incident in which a male security guard allegedly sexually harassed a female student at Buffalo City campus's Potsdam site. The guard was arrested.

Dr Dennis Matotoka, CEO of the commission, with advocates Thando Gumede and Nthabiseng Sepanya-Mogale, as well as activist Ohara Ngoma-Diseko, characterised the WSU presentation as being like that of politicians rather than honest accounting officers.

“You seem to be answering like a government department ... It’s too glossy a story for me,” said Sepanya-Mogale at one point.

“Your report is not correct and it makes it difficult for us to engage meaningfully. There is [concern about] males dominating leadership within the campuses, from professorship to dean level,” said Matotoka.

He also asked whether the institution stood by its statement that no incidents of sexual harassment took place between 2019 and 2023.

“There was a high incident rate of rape before 2021 on our campuses. There was easy access to the residences, no monitoring of how many students lived in the res, and you would find that some of the students who resided there were not registered with us,” said Songca.

“There was a rape that [took] place on one of our campuses and [a lot of drugs were discovered on] one of our campuses in Mthatha.

“We then put a proper system in place and an application process that was electronic because before, all the admissions were done manually. That is why people were able to easily access the residences,” Songca said.

The WSU team was probed on whether it had sound, impactful policies and monitoring systems to protect and support students and staff. Among key issues were the treatment of those within the LGBTQI+ community, post-birth and breastfeeding policies, safety on campuses, sexual harassment and employment equity.

In a report on the Coastal KZN, Lovedale, Taletso and Motheo TVET colleges, the commission found no policies in place to curb gender-based violence on or off campuses.

The CGE also “observed that the colleges have no measures in place to promote the advancement of women in decision-making positions, ensure resources are allocated to support gender transformation or mechanisms to track the movement of women to ... top management positions”.

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