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05 September 2019 | Story Prof Francis Petersen (UFS Rector and Vice-Chancellor)

In light of the ongoing violence against women, and recent surge in femicide in South Africa, the University of the Free State (UFS) recommits itself to challenge, fight and eradicate all forms of gender-based violence on its campus and in the country.

The recent rape and murder of 19-year-old Media and Film Studies student at the University of Cape Town (UCT), Uyinene Mrwetyana, and the murder of University of the Western Cape (UWC) student, Jesse Hess, are painful reminders of the pervasive nature of misogyny and patriarchal violence that impedes the freedom of women/womxn in South Africa. The UFS stands in solidarity with UCT and UWC, and all other South African universities that are currently steeped in this national crisis pertaining to gender-based violence.

The UFS perceives this as an enduring manifestation of patriarchy that results in women’s/womxn’s subordination, inequality, and violation of bodily integrity. These horrific events underscore the extent to which attempts to address women’s/womxn’s inequality and gender-based violence nationally, and more pertinently at universities, have failed. Recent discussions have underscored the issue of ‘belonging’ as a concern in Higher Education contexts. Belonging is often couched in the language of ‘access’ and ‘transformation’. However, these terms often provide limited substantive change for students who experience a sense of marginalisation and alienation at South African universities. Decolonisation discourse challenges the nature of hegemonic knowledge production that excludes voices of alterity.

Epistemic violence is central to decolonisation discourse referring to the nature of hegemonic knowledge production that excludes voices of alterity. The extent to which knowledge production manifests in universities is, however, not only white and Western, but also male and masculine. South African universities are therefore confronted again with the urgency of recognising and responding to the issue of women’s/womxn’s subordination, with specific emphasis on their safety and freedom.

The UFS is committed to creating a university space where all our students feel that they belong, by broadening current epistemologies and including women’s/womxn’s voices and lived experiences. More pertinently and in a practical manner, curriculum change should include diverse intellectual perspectives and incorporate an ethics of care in teaching practices. The UFS acknowledges that more must be done as a space of higher learning to investigate the causes that underlie the continuance of sexual violence against women/womxn.

On Friday 6 September 2019, the UFS held a day of mourning, standing in solidarity with other universities in their attempt to respond to the present crisis. In mourning Uyinene and Jesse’s death and all other victims and survivors of gender-based violence, the university will critically self-reflect on the multi-layered demand for transformation and consciousness needed for deep change.

The UFS calls on the Department of Higher Education, civil society, the business sector and all others to actively contribute to efforts that will eradicate gender violence. As the UFS, we call specifically on the City of Bloemfontein, the mayor, members of local government, South Africa Police Service and all inhabitants to assist us in making the city safe for all.

Prof Francis Petersen
Rector and Vice-Chancellor
University of the Free State
5 September 2019

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