Ex-Rhodes University student Yolanda Dyanti challenges ruling that upheld her lifetime exclusion


A former Rhodes University student is challenging a High Court judgment that upheld her lifetime exclusion from Rhodes University.

On Monday, Yolanda Dyantyi's leave to appeal application was argued and postponed to Friday.

This is a fresh bid to have the court overturn its March decision when it dismissed, with costs, her application for the review and setting aside of her permanent exclusion from the university.

Her representative, Nomzamo Zondo from the Socio-economic Rights institute of South Africa, said the case had been moved to Friday.

Disciplinary

Dyantyi's life ban was imposed after she was found guilty, in an independent disciplinary hearing in 2017, of a range of acts, including the kidnapping of fellow students, insubordination, assault and defamation.

Zondo said the terms of her expulsion have made it practically impossible for Dyantyi to enroll in any other higher education institution for the foreseeable future.

The charges relate to the infamous #RUReferenceList protest of 2016 when the names of current and former students accused of rape were published on campus networking platforms.

University spokesperson Velisile Bukula said: "The hearing had heard evidence about a vigilante campaign online, that saw the 'naming and shaming' of 11 male students on the allegation that they had committed a series of sexual assaults on the campus with impunity.

"Despite the far-reaching and serious nature of such allegations, not even one of the 11 male students has ever faced criminal prosecution."

In her application for review, Dyantyi had also sought the court's intervention in setting aside its verdict on all the charges and for the university to be ordered to pay the costs of her application proceedings.

Denied

She claims the university had denied her the right to a fair hearing, that she was denied legal representation, that the evidence against her during the hearing was flawed, that the sanction was inappropriate and that she was denied her right to an internal review following the hearing.

Dyantyi also claimed the decision of the independent hearing was "irrational and reasonably suspected of being tainted with bias".

She argued the decision of the chairperson was beyond his legal power.

The publication of the names was so widespread that it became a constant talking point on the campus and eventually led to the "kidnapping" of several male students in April 2016 by a group of students led by Dyantyi, said Bukula.

In his March judgment dismissing her review bid, the deputy judge president of the Eastern Cape Division of the High Court, Judge ZM Nhlangulela, detailed the circumstances of the kidnappings where spitting, assault and threats of killing by strangulation with a stocking and necklacing were made against one of the student captives.

Release

"It was the police intervention that secured the release of [the captive] from the protesters…" Nhlangulela wrote in his judgment.

He detailed how "repeated" warnings to the kidnappers, including by the vice-chancellor "all fell on deaf ears".

Not only was the vice-chancellor rejected, but he was pushed out of the way of the protesters and ridiculed, Nhlangulela wrote.

The hearing had accepted the evidence of several witnesses that Dyantyi played a leading role in the kidnapping and continued deprivation of the captives' liberty, which included the assault and intimidation of at least one of the captives who was held against his will for some 11 hours.

Seriousness

The chairperson of the hearing "regarded the seriousness of the offences…, the propensity of the applicant to commit offences involving physical violence while on campus and her disregard for the safety of the members of the university community as being proportionate to the sanction that was imposed", Nhlangulela said.

Zondo, however, said despite hundreds of students having taken part in the week-long protest, the university had, at the same time, taken credit for making the changes demanded by the protest, and used its institutional might to allegedly bully and punish Dyantyi for taking part in the protest.

"Since Ms Dyantyi's expulsion, Rhodes University has remained unrelentingly determined to prevent her from challenging the outcome of the disciplinary inquiry.

"It has committed its resources and its power to singling out Ms Dyantyi and attacking her character, describing her as 'insidious', arguing that she tells two 'outright lies' and that she is "mischievous and dishonest".

"Disappointingly, this is the basis on which the university has denied her right to a procedurally just disciplinary process, at which Ms Dyantyi would be afforded the opportunity to tell her side of the story."

In December 2019, Dyantyi approached the Grahamstown High Court to set aside the outcome of the disciplinary hearing in a review application.

In March 2020, the court dismissed her review application and ordered her to pay the university's costs.

In April 2020, the Socio-economic Rights Institute filed Dyantyi's application for leave to appeal, primarily submitting the court erred in failing to consider her argument the postponement of her disciplinary hearing to a date when her legal representatives were not available had resulted in an unfair disciplinary process.

The university has opposed the application.

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