The UCT community came out in their thousands today - staff, students and friends - united under the banner "We say: Enough!" On placards raised above the crowd, the names and faces of UCT community members who lost their lives to violent crime in recent years were strong reminders of society's vulnerability - at all levels.
Jammie Shuttles brought colleagues and students from the Hiddingh and medical campuses to join the protest march, which gathered on middle campus, moving up under the highway and between the historic fields of the Green Mile, to halt at the foot of iconic Jameson Hall.
As Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price and SRC president Lorne Hallendorff noted in their addresses, the Jameson Steps have seen other assemblies - though less frequently, over the years - times when the UCT community stood shoulder-to-shoulder to protest apartheid, conscription, unequal education, HIV/AIDS, government inaction; and now, violent crimes against women.
"Our constitutional right to be safe in our homes and communities is breached hundreds of times every day, particularly for women and girls," said Price.
He was joined by members of the senior leadership group, the Students' Representative Council (SRC), and members of the academic community whose research encompasses gender violence and its fallout.
Price said that the march showed that UCT wants a caring society.
"Violence has become so commonplace that we have become numb to it. We protest to preserve our own humanity."
In this sense, government had failed society, he said.
"We expect the state to protect us; a criminal justice system that ensures perpetrators are locked up."
It had also failed to support survivors of sexual crimes. Price urged government to fund civil society organisations and train more social workers to tackle the problem at community level.
Turning to the students, Price challenged them to confront the behaviours, attitudes and language that diminish women in society - "and diminish the meaning of the word 'rape'".
He said UCT would tackle the problem of gender violence on several fronts, by conducting a survey on the prevalence of date rape among UCT students; changing the curricula to address the norms of gender and inequality; supporting excellent research groups; and working closely with community groups to support victims.
SRC president Lorne Hallendorff asked students to make the 12 February candlelight vigil, to highlight violence and gender-based crime, an annual event, "to show that we have not forgotten".
He also called on students to get involved in youth development programmes.
"Research shows that three quarters of male rapists first raped as teenagers. Find a campaign to support at UCT."
Pointing to the "huge" challenge facing the country, where a woman is killed by an intimate partner every six hours, Children's Institute director Associate Professor Shanaaz Mathews called on the gathering to "face our own behaviours".
"We need to ask: what does it mean to be a man in South Africa?"
In closing, deputy vice-chancellor Professor Thandabantu Nhlapo urged the protestors to complete the slogan displayed on one of the placards: "I march because..."
"You have to find your own reason. Each and every one of us can make a difference."
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