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Rhodes staff call for interdict on protests to be removed

72 staff members have signed a petition addressed to the university's management.

Rhodes University students confront a lecturer whom they accuse of calling in the police to arrest them during anti-rape protests on campus. Picture: Govan Whittles/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - A group of staff members at Rhodes University have released a statement slamming a decision by management to place a court interdict on protestors during last week's anti rape demonstrations saying it has criminalised a 'legitimate' protest.

The court order was laid against students and the Student Representative Council (SRC) leading to the end of a week-long academic shutdown.

A statement released by over 70 lecturers and administrative staff yesterday says the use of police force during the protests has damaged the trust between management and students.

One of the members who signed the petition, Corinne Knowles, says the interdict is unwarranted.

"The interdict was taken out with no consultation between management and concerned staff or management and the protesting group of students, and so we are very confused about how they came to their decision and how it criminalises protests instead of criminalising [alleged] rapists."

She says the wording on the document is unclear.

"We were not expecting this interdict. It's not been explained clearly what the grounds were and what the freedoms are. And it's very clear to us now that the interdict says 'may not disrupt the academic project or lectures' and we don't know what that means, does that mean you can't put up your hand and ask what is rape culture when your lecturer is telling you something about legal consent, is it disruption to sit and sing outside a lecture theatre?"

Rhodes University obtains an interdict against protesting #RUreferencelist students with the High Court #SABCNews pic.twitter.com/ziOQ9L6rI5

Knowles says this has given the university license to restrain anything that is given voice at the institution.

Last year, staff were assured by Vice Chancellor Sizwe Mabizela that there would be no police in the incident of protests.

"We drew up a petition then saying we do not want police on our campus, we are very clear about that. We were assured by the VC that there would be no police on campus. So we feel that the contract that we thought we were agreeing to… that has been broken."

The group have urged the VC to immediately withdraw the court order and to find a better resolve to the student demands.

They have also suggested that the institution issue a restraining order against individuals facing criminal charges of rape or sexual assault on campus and would like to meet with management to discuss a way forward.

Protests on the Grahamstown campus were heightened after a list of sexual offenders was published on social media.

Rhodes University says it has not received a petition but instead a letter of concern from staff, and will meet with the group in due time.

See below to read the full petition by Rhodes University Staff

Meanwhile a series of talks have been organized for students to continue discussions around rape culture on campus.

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