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Rhodes University appoints first ever harassment and discrimination officer

Canny Maphanga

Rhodes University has appointed Dr Zethu Mkhize as its harassment and discrimination officer as of September 10, 2018.

This follows recommendations made by the sexual violence task team at the institution.

“My role is to provide a safe haven to those who have been wronged and to advise them about options going forward. In such situations, I assess not only what might have happened, but how the person feels and thinks about the situation,” Mkhize said in a statement on Wednesday.

The institution came under the spotlight in August when one of its students, 23-year-old Khensani Maseko, committed suicide after she was allegedly raped in May by her then boyfriend. Her death sent shock waves throughout the nation.

The student accused of allegedly raping Maseko was issued a notice of suspension by the institution.

This, however, does not equate to a suspension yet as he will be afforded the right to make representations on why he should continue his studies, once an inquest into the circumstances of Maseko’s death is finalised.

Immediate intervention ‘critical’

“A notice of suspension involves a student being invited to make representations, in terms of the principle of audi alteram partem (let the other side be heard as well) as to why he should not be suspended pending the finalisation of the inquest and the actions that may flow from the report of the inquest. The representations will be considered and an appropriate decision will be taken,” the institution’s spokesperson Veliswa Mhlope said.

This is not the first time the issue of sexual violence has rocked the institution. Scores of students in Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) gathered in protest two years ago against the “war on women’s bodies” being ignored. This collective action sparked an international debate about rape culture in society.

Mkhize, who holds a PhD from the University of South Africa, will oversee transformation, advocacy and awareness-raising in respect of harassment, discrimination, sexual assault and violence.

“My expertise relates to being responsive to the psychosocial needs of individuals and any challenge that might interfere with their social functioning. Harassment and discrimination are two phenomena that upset a person’s rhythm of life within their living spaces. It is therefore critical that intervention be offered immediately,” Mkhize said.

The institution has welcomed Mkhize’s new role and hopes that it will help curb the scourge of gender-based violence.

“We are looking forward to Dr Mkhize’s positive contribution to the university in strengthening our ongoing programme against sexual and gender-based violence,” Rhodes University vice-chancellor Sizwe Mabizela concluded.

News 24

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