Losing 5 students in two months has been extremely difficult - UCT vice-chancellor

UCT students and staff gathered for a night vigil in memory of Uyinene Mrwetyana. (Kamva Somdyala, News24).
UCT students and staff gathered for a night vigil in memory of Uyinene Mrwetyana. (Kamva Somdyala, News24).

The loss of five students at the University of Cape Town within a space of two months has been "extremely difficult and highly distressing" for those on campus, says vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng.

"We have gone through an unusual period during which we lost five of our students. While the passing of just one student is difficult to come to terms with, we have had to endure five student deaths since late August," she said in a letter to the university on Monday.

The students are Uyinene Mrwetyana, Mhleli Cebo Mbatha, Nicole Heynes, Sonja Canto and Lufuno Nathan.

Mrwetyana, 19, and Mbatha, 18, were both victims of violent crime.

Mrwetyana, a first-year film and media studies student, was killed in the Clareinch Post Office in Claremont the same day she disappeared - Saturday, August 24. A post office worker is expected to appear in court next month in connection with her rape and murder.

Mbatha was a first-year Bachelor of Social Science student majoring in philosophy, politics and governance. He was buried in Dundee, Kwazulu-Natal, on Saturday.

He was stabbed to death in an apparent robbery at Clifton Beach last Saturday night.

"The terrible circumstances surrounding their deaths only adds to the psychological challenge we face in accepting their deaths and finding ways to deal with our loss," said Phakeng.

"Even though these tragic crimes occurred off campus, it makes us all feel a sense of fear and anger. We will continue taking up the fight against crime in Cape Town and South Africa."

Heynes, 20, was studying towards a Bachelor of Social Sciences with majors in psychology and organisational psychology.

She died at home on September 23 following a short illness.

Those who knew her described her as a dedicated student who would be remembered for her caring nature and zest for life.

Canto, 54, was a Master's student at the university's South African College of Music (SACM).

She died in a car accident while accompanying four San musicians - two of whom also died in the accident - from northern Namibia to the airport in Windhoek to catch a flight to Cape Town.

They were to work with African music students at the SACM and take part in two concerts, including the UCT showcase.

Phakeng said Nathan died off campus due to unknown causes.

"We are assisting the families of these students and will be preparing an 'in remembrance' message for Lufuno, as we do for all UCT students and staff who pass away - our small way of honouring their lives."

She reiterated condolences to their loved ones and to the faculty of humanities, where all five had been studying.

"It is natural in such a time to sometimes have feelings of despondency. We share the emotional burden of this time, and I know you will support each other in this time of healing."

Students and staff could access counselling by making contact with the Student Wellness Centre or Human Resources department respectively.

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