Govt responds to gender-based violence at SA universities

The Higher Education Department says universities must first approach it before it can act.

UCT students hold up posters during a protest against rape and sexual abuse on campus on 11 May 2016. Picture: Thomas Holder/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - The Higher Education Department says while it does provide assistance to universities hit by gender-based violence, they must first approach it before it can act.

Students at several institutions protested last month over what they believe is the 'rape culture' that's been allowed to develop on campuses and some criticised the department for not acting quickly enough to stop it.

Over the last several weeks Eyewitness News visited campuses in three provinces to assess the extent of the problem.

WATCH: Inside SA's 'Rape Culture'

Pressure has been mounting on South African institutions, the Higher Education Ministry and government as a whole, to act and implement harsher policies around rape on campus.

Students on several campuses have told Eyewitness News they no longer feel safe, some even feel they need to carry knives and pepper spray to protect themselves.

The department's chief director Mahlubi Mabizela says the onus is on universities to alert officials when cases of sexual assault or rape are reported on campus.

"We're not always aware of what is happening within these institutions, especially on issues like these, unless they're brought up by the institution."

Mabizela says the department does provide support but that it's difficult for government to intervene on a national level, because each university has different policies to deal with the problem.

He adds survivors of such crimes are more than welcome to approach the ministry directly, if they don't feel their cases are being properly dealt with.

To view EWN's special report on rape culture, click here.