Nation mourns for Uyinene

Uyinene Mrwetyan's coffin during her funeral service at Christian Centre in East London. PHOTO: Mbulelo Sisulu
Uyinene Mrwetyan's coffin during her funeral service at Christian Centre in East London. PHOTO: Mbulelo Sisulu

Uyinene Mrwetyana (19) was laid to rest in Beacon Bay, East London, on Saturday morning 6 September. Her funeral followed an emotionally raw week filled with protests by university students, women groups and even schools across the country.

The arrest of a 42-year-old worker at the Clareinch post office where the University of Cape Town (UCT) student was last seen, on Friday 30 August, left the nation in shock.

A letter read out at the funeral on behalf of Mrewtyana’s mother, Nomangwane, a university academic and the director of student affairs at Rhodes University, in Makhanda, captured the country’s outrage at the fact that women no longer felt safe anywhere.

“I’m sorry that I warned you about all other places but not the post office. I’m sorry I was not there to fight for you, my girl ... I love you, my girl,” the letter read.

Netwerk 24 reported that Nomangwane would be establishing a foundation in her daughter’s honour that would continue the fight against violence against women.

University of Cape Town vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng, who also spoke at the funeral told mourners that the institution had established a scholarship in the film and media studies student’s honour. It will be called the Uyinene Mrwetyana Scholarship for Women in Humanities Studies.

At a memorial service held on Wednesday 4 September, the UCT chancellor Graça Machel urged everyone to pledge to take action to ensure that South Africa is a safe country for women and children.

Machel expressed the collective pain experienced by all across campus following the death of the first-year film and media studies student.

“I stand here as a grandmother to Uyinene. A grandmother in pain. And I can see, and feel, in every one of us here there’s so much pain. We are all wounded.

“Some of us are extremely angry, others are confused, others are asking questions. One thing is common – we all are in pain. This child has left us and … she took a little bit of each one of us. It’s not only pain, it’s not only anger, it is also a sense of loss and of feeling that we are no longer who we were before she was taken from us,” she said.

Machel urged everyone to pledge to do something to make this country a safe place.

“Uyinene was not abducted at the campus. She was at the post office. She could have been in a mall, she could have been simply walking, she could have been anywhere in a public space or even in a private space.

“Our reality is we are a society where women – and children by the way – are not safe anywhere.”

She said something deeply wrong was happening in our society.

“Yes, the university will take all the measures to ensure that all students and faculty – everyone at the university – is safe. We will do that, it’s our responsibility. Yes, the minister (Bheki Cele, South African minister of the police) was saying we will do everything we can as a government, and as police, and the judges.

“But the problem is not the consequences of what’s happening – it’s the root cause of why and how we got to the point where we are as a society,” said Machel.

Calls have been made for the death penalty for murderers and rapists.

Hundreds of protestors including school children came together in solidarity during the march held outside parliament last Wednesday.

The march, themed #RememberingNene, was in response to the growing number of senseless killings around the country.

It followed shortly after, Mrwetyana’s body was found in Khayelitsha, at her alleged killer’s home.

She was reported missing on Saturday 24 August and the suspect handed himself to the police on Monday 2 September.

Angry students and citizens took to streets to say enough is enough, demanding a detailed plan on how the government is intending to address the matter.

They say the government has been quiet for too long, failing to serve justice for victims.

Protestors were angered by a “vague” response by Cele. He could not give details of how his office is planning to tackle the problem. What Cele said was deemed by the public as an overrated statement.

He said the law would be enforced and police would do their best to ensure justice is served, adding it is their goal to remove the perpetrators of violent crimes from society.

“We understand you. This affects all of us and we are doing our best to find solutions. We know just making an arrest alone is not enough – justice must be served.

“We will work tirelessly to protect our women,” Cele said.

Phakeng was not satisfied with his response. She said the university is addressing the matter internally, beefing up their security systems and providing help to victims. However, their hands are tied when it comes to public spaces such as that where Uyinene was killed, she said.

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