After disruption, we need conversation

Controversial media creates controversial and often differing responses. We’ve seen this with the media coverage of the South African student protests during the past year. Following a public screening of DISRUPT, two reporters share their perspectives on the documentary about the rape culture at the University currently known as Rhodes (UCKAR).

Thandiwe Matyobeni

Emotional faces filled the room as DISRUPT was screened. It is not an easy film. It is not an objective work of journalism. It is solely the perspective of the brave students of UCKAR and their struggle against an institution which values bureaucracy and public image over basic human rights.

What is particularly remarkable about the documentary is that it was documented by supporters of the movement and from its very beginning, before the protests, the interdict and the violence, and goes further to capture its climax.

There is a sense that DISRUPT was created during a time when it was extremely relevant and topical. What the audience want to know is what happens now? The hype around the movement has quieted down and while Activate claims to still be writing about the story, there has not been much recent activity to cover.

A group of staff members in support of the students have gone to court to oppose the interdict served against them as a response to the protests. “We were given a few weeks to prepare our answering affidavit which we have done and will be submitted this week. Then the next court hearing will be on 1 September,” says a member of the audience who also works at UCKAR.

There is not much students, media or even the public can do considering the interdict and the forthcoming court date. The danger with this is that the longer the official process takes, the easier it is for smaller details of the demands to slip through the cracks. Universities are in constant flux. Students graduate and leave and issues are easily buried by the constant activity.

But in the greater scheme of things, the court case is beside the point. As one audience member pointed out, “We are not at all sure if we will win this case but the point is not about winning or losing, it’s to show that a group of people are behind the students and we don’t believe that a legalistic bureaucratic procedure like an interdict should be used as a threat to handle the people”.

What is important is that the conversation continues. People need to remain outraged until some effective change occurs. While this was no doubt a harrowing and emotionally draining process for everyone involved, it did create a great opportunity to educate people on rape culture and the failures of such a respected institution’s management.

Muthoni Mundia gives her perspective.

It has been nearly three months since the #RUreferencelist was published and protests ensued. A screening of Activate’s DISRUPT on the Think!Fests programme is one way of keeping the subject alive and continuing the protest when an interdict prevents students from physical protest.

The film was received with gratitude from students and staff of UCKAR because of mainstream media failing to fairly and truthfully represent students. “It’s the most accurate thing I’ve seen,” says an audience member who was involved in the protests, adding that the film gave her a place she could refer people to who wanted to understand more about the protests.

Mickey Dorfling, director and editor of DISRUPT said that DSTV has signed on to broadcast the documentary, while it also continues to be freely available on YouTube.  This is so that the message “can get out there and more people can think about these types of things because the way that rape culture works is that it’s invisible, and if it’s brought to people’s attention that is in itself powerful,” he says. He hopes that spreading the documentary will keep the message going.”We really just want people to be seeing this and engaging with it. Even if they disagree with some of the points, at least you plant something in someone’s mind to think about” he adds.

“Wherever there’s a group of people, a community … fighting for their rights to be heard, we should support them, even if we cannot actually do anything,” an audience member points out.

As the film goes out into public spaces such as family living rooms through DSTV, it does so without a trigger warning and discussion thereafter to unpack the content. Conversational spaces are therefore useful as an attachment to a weighty and complex subject matter such as rape culture. It will be interesting to see how people create their own conversational spaces across the country and worldwide.

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