Picture: ISTCOK
Picture: ISTCOK

The scourge of gender violence and femicide in higher institutions of learning is nothing but a reflection of what is happening in the broader society‚ say experts.

Femicide continues to occur in academic spaces‚ with Zolile Khumalo from the Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) losing her life this week at the hands of a man. She is not the only one. Many cases have been reported of young women falling prey to rapists and murderers in educational institutions.

Khumalo was allegedly killed by her former boyfriend on Tuesday night at her Lonsdale student residence. The suspect, Sandile Mantsoe, is a former student at the institution.

Dee Smythe‚ author of Rape Unresolved: Policing Sexual Offences in South Africa‚ said one cannot separate what happens in universities from broader society. "In terms of attitudes towards women — [there’s a] belief that men should and do have free and unfettered access to women’s bodies. [There’s also] the general lack of accountability when they hurt women."

"I think there are interesting analogies to men who kill partners at their workplaces and the obligation of corporations to keep their employees safe. I don’t know of any university that has a mechanism for reporting that you fear for your life from an outsider‚" Smythe added.

Echoing Smythe’s views‚ NGO Ilitha Labantu spokesperson Siyabulela Monakali said violence against women is a "systemic problem"‚ which is deeply rooted in the fabric of society. Institutions themselves uphold or harbour patriarchal and misogynistic norms that continually undervalue women and discriminate against them.

Ilitha Labantu‚ an organisation which fights gross violation of human rights and violence perpetrated towards women and girls‚ is of the view that not enough is being done to effectively address this crisis.

Universities SA (Usaf) has condemned the MUT murder. "We call on all South Africans to unite in the condemnation of this atrocity‚" said acting CEO Berene Kramer. "We applaud that a criminal process is already underway and that the law is now taking its course."

Kramer went on to say that universities are spaces for intellectual exchange where women should feel safe. "We live in a patriarchal society that needs to confront the culture of coercion — especially towards women. We need to teach conflict management to our children and the power of restraint. We need to engage in open dialogue and learn, as society, to intervene when conflict unfolds in our midst."

Adding to the conversation‚ Minister in the Presidency Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has expressed her concern about gender violence in institutions of learning.

"We condemn, in the strongest terms, the killing of Khumalo and trust that our justice system will prevail ... The sentencing of Mantsoe should send a stern warning to all other perpetrators of violence against women to desist from committing such deplorable acts," Dlamini-Zuma said in a statement.

Across universities‚ students often embark on protests against the rape culture and violence against women on campuses. This week, students at the Univerity of the Witwatersrand protested against the latest violation under #brokethesilence.