In a shocking example of alleged homophobia, the University of Venda in Limpopo is accused of allowing ongoing discrimination against LGBTI students on its campus.
While one would expect a tertiary educational institution to be a bastion of enlightenment, it’s come to light that the university’s Student Representative Council (SRC) has for at least two years refused to recognise an LGBTI student organisation – and the university’s administration is said to be doing nothing to stop its illegal action.
This blatant discrimination was exposed in a recent Facebook post by last year’s SRC president, Mathelemusa Andisani Mushavhi, who had no qualms about proudly proclaiming that he’d personally ensured that the organisation, Univen LGBTI, would be barred from operating on campus.
Mushavhi wrote: “One thing that myself and Mudau Mafulo didn’t do when we were SRC president was to give #Gays_n_Lesbians a room/recognition. And I dnt regret for doing that.”
This was confirmed by LGBTI student Ray (not his real name), who told Mambaonline that the university’s traditional Venda “values” are behind the repeated rejection of the group’s applications.
“The previous SRC president was adamant that he would not support us,” said Ray, who asked that we not publish his identity out of fear of possible retaliation. He insisted that the problem is both “with the SRC and the management.”
He explained that “we can’t do anything or operate as an organisation on the premises of the campus if we are not recognised by the SRC. If we do so it would be in violation of the code of conduct and you could be expelled.”
Ray said that the group cannot offer any kind of support to LGBTI students who might have a problem on campus as “you are afraid to help them and you have to think about your own future. It’s really frustrating. Students have dropped out because of this.”
He revealed that his own experience of abuse and discrimination at the university led him to drop out at one point but he returned “because I decided to stand my ground and finish.”
Ray claimed that complaints have been laid with the administration, but that they have chosen to do nothing about the issue. “The whole university management, they won’t listen to our grievances. Where do you go when you have issues like this? They see homosexuality as a barbaric act.”
Samke Ngubane, a former recent University of Venda student who was chairperson of the Amnesty International campus group last year, agreed that the administration has simply refused to address the concerns of LGBT student.
She said that she unsuccessfully tried to assist Univen LGBTI in its efforts to be recognised by the SRC.
“The university is rather quiet about the LGBTI thing. We have applied for recognition three times. There were staff members who tried to help us but nothing came of it. We took all the measures required to recognise a structure on campus, including getting 100 signatures, but nothing happened,” she said.
Ngubane also revealed that she attempted to organise a workshop where senior staff and members of the SRC could be sensitised on LGBTI issues. “But the proposal was rejected. They said no, no. It’s a losing battle,” she sighed.
Mambaonline contacted university spokesperson Takalani Dzaga and submitted a number of questions; asking the administration if it was aware of the allegations of discrimination and if it condoned the SRC’s actions. We also asked if an investigation would be launched to address the alleged discrimination against LGBTI students on campus by the SRC.
Despite phone calls, leaving telephonic messages and sending two e-mails (with confirmation by another staff member that Dzaga was aware of the e-mails), the university failed to acknowledge our e-mails or questions.
Neither Ngubane nor Ray expressed any surprise at this. Ngubane said that university management believes that “this thing [homosexuality] does not exist in Venda. That we are bringing this from the cities and that they don’t want this there. It is just simply discrimination and ignorance.”
Mambaonline was not able to contact Mushavhi, whose Facebook profile was deleted just days after we began making enquiries about the issue (see screen grab of his status post below), but we did speak to the current SRC president, Samuel Mofokeng.
He told Mambaonline that, “I don’t have a problem with gays and lesbians,” adding, however, “I just don’t want them to be gay around me.”
Mofokeng, who has been SRC president since October last year admitted that Univen LGBTI had previously asked the SRC for recognition and that “they have not been winning,” but said that if he was approached with a reasonable proposal “there is no way we cannot recognise them.”
Former SRC President Mathelemusa Andisani Mushavhi’s damning post
When asked if he was prepared to affirm his and the SRC’s support for LGBT equality to the student population, he replied that this was not necessary: “My assistant is a gay man; that is a statement in its own right.”
Ray confirmed that Univen LGBTI intends to present a proposal to the new SRC once orientation is over and that he is hopeful that Mofokeng will be more accommodating than his predecessor. He expressed his concern, however, about the continued influence of the previous SRC leaders.
It is almost unthinkable that an institution of higher learning seems willing to simply ignore our bill of rights; placing so called “traditional values” above the most basic tenants of our constitutional democracy – freedom of speech and of association – while allegedly endorsing illegal discrimination. That such a university is educating a new generation of South Africans is horrifying.
Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Peter Mbati states on the university’s website: “Our goal is to develop responsible citizens who will impact positively on the growth and development of South Africa.” In that regard he and the university are clearly failing.