Rhodes University has laid an interdict against students and the Student Representative Council following increasingly violent protests on the campus this week that saw five students arrested on Wednesday.

The university’s academic activities have been suspended until Monday.

The University applied for the interdict at the Grahamstown High Court, and included people “engaging in unlawful activities” as well as those “associating themselves” with such activities. The interdict also named three students in particular: Yolanda Dyantyi, Simamkele Heleni and Sian Ferguson.

Ferguson is a sexual violence activist and Rhodes student who chairs the university’s Gender Action Project society, as well as lead the Chapter 2.12 campaign which precipitated the protest action there. The campaign was started by student activists and rape survivors who placed posters across the university’s library wall.
These posters quoted what university administration staff said to survivors when the latter attempted to report their sexual assault to university management.

The interdict prevents students from interfering with other students or academic activities, academic or administrative staff at the university, as well as disrupting the Rhodes residence system. 

They are further prohibited from damaging any Rhodes property or causing “unlawful damage” to the university’s reputation.

The interdict also explicitly prohibits certain crimes against members of “the Rhodes University community”. These include: “Kidnapping, assaulting, threatening, intimidating or otherwise interfering with the free movement, bodily integrity and psychological wellbeing [sic], and any other constitutional rights of any members of the Rhodes University community on the Applicant’s campus”. 

The interdict follows days of heated protests at the university, with students objecting to sexual violence and Rhodes’ response to rape in the small Eastern Cape based student community. At least five students were arrested on Wednesday morning, allegedly for created blockades on public roads Eden Grove Road and South Street, both of which intersect with and cross over Rhodes University campus. 

In footage filmed by bystanders and students on their cellphones, police were seen firing rubber bullets and tear gas at the protesting students. Still other footage showed a distraught Dr Sizwe Mabizela, the Vice-Chancellor at Rhodes, pleading with police officers to release an arrested student from the back of a police van. The woman was having a panic attack in the back of the vehicle while friends tried to calm her by speaking to her through the vehicle’s back window. 

Police are seen staring straight ahead, ignoring Mabizela’s pleas and those of the gathered students, before driving away. 

The student is apparently now recovering in hospital following this incident. 

Speaking to the Mail & Guardian, Mabizela said the situation at Rhodes had been devastating for the small community. “You can just see so much pain, and so much anger,” he said. “Sexual violence is endemic in South Africa, and I understand the survivors’ [of sexual assault] need for justice.” Mabizela added, however, that taking the law in our own hands was not the answer to the rape crisis in the country.

Mabizela admitted that the university needed drastically address rape survivors’ needs by being more compassionate, supportive and sympathetic when they seek help from the university. He said it was for this reason that it was decided to close the university until Monday – so that rape survivors and others students traumatised by this week’s events on campus could seek counselling and assistance without their academic pressures.