In 2017, Yolanda Dyantyi received a lifetime ban from Rhodes University for her participation in an anti-rape protest that resulted in the alleged kidnapping of a male student named on the #RUReferenceList as an alleged rapist. As part of our Badass Women campaign in April, Marie Claire recognised Yolanda as a trailblasing woman determined to disturb the patriarchy, the violence, and the systematic oppression of women of colour in this country.

We spoke to the Yolanda to learn what it took for her and her fellow student activists to fight their institution so relentlessly:

What were the circumstances that influenced or shaped your character?

I was raised by my grandmother with rarely any other parental intervention, and so the sacrifices she’s had to make throughout my upbringing just to give me a decent future and most importantly, safety throughout it all, has made me who I am. I get most of my strength from her. To me, she’s the epitome of love and strength, which is generally what black womxn consist of. However, more often than not it’s not by choice that we have to be strong because we’re responsible for a whole lot in our households and have to carry the load of the experiences of life usually on our own. I also look up to Beyonce (laughs). Her music has taught me to be vulnerable with my emotions, yet to not be ashamed at all for how I feel about anything or anyone. I think she’s quite honest in her music, and I am quite an honest, blunt person too.

Does your frankness often get you in trouble?

It gets me in trouble, it also means I’m not always well-liked. I’ve even felt like an outcast in my extended family, which is okay because it’s not like they have done anything for me. But I own my frankness. I hate people who lie. I believe people should have the room to say whatever they feel especially when it relates to violence.

What are your biggest fears?

Dying financially broke (yes, I am materialistic, I will admit that). Money makes me happy. In the capitalist society we live in, money is access to doing and seeing a lot of things that those without it cannot, so I need to accumulate some wealth to leave for my children, should I have any and to also make a change in society.

I would be so sad if I died knowing I haven’t left a footprint for those black womxn to come after me to continue the legacy of owning their bodies, and constantly voicing their strides.

When do you feel most vulnerable?

When I feel like I’m fighting a merciless battle such as the disciplinary proceedings I underwent before my exclusion at Rhodes. Those were extremely violent times for me. I’m also most vulnerable around those that I love, and love me back, but usually I’m not one who easily expresses their sadness or vulnerability.

What’s your superwoman attire?

My naked body is my superwoman attire. My brain forms part of it too.

Was there a moment in your life where you first felt different or like a trouble-maker?

I think its important to note that to feel, be, and even do different is not a bad thing. There are so many outcast moments I’ve had. From back in pre-school, I think one of my earliest standout moments was when I refused to be put in one of the grade R teacher’s class because I didn’t like her, I liked the other one. I got my way. In grade seven,  I wasn’t selected as a prefect the first time around, and was told that it had to do with my ‘attitude’ and had to work on it. I didn’t, but eventually still made it as a prefect. I’ve stepped on a lot of adults’ toes because I don’t like being shouted at, so I’ve always stood my ground, whether I’m in the wrong or not.

Does being a trouble-maker ever get tiring?

To live? Yes, definitely. To fight a system thats historically been against black womxn? Yes. To try carving my way and that of others, not by choice, but because someone generally has to? Yes, it all gets tiring. But I soldier on, and drink wine and smoke cigarettes in between.

What does ‘badass’ mean to you?

Badass to me is a confirmation of all that I’ve known my entire life – that I’m different with a purpose that was set way before I could even realise what my passions were. Badass is to be black and womxn and not wanting to trade that for any other thing. Badass is to be militant against wrong and living strongly by my beliefs and affirmations.

Student activist Yolanda Dyantyi expelled from Rhodes University

If you have not yet purchased a copy of our April issue, be sure to get a copy to see the rest of the remarkable South African women featured in our #BadassWomen section. You can also read more of their stories online:

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