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Photo Essay: Uyinene’s fighting spirit remembered

2019-09-07 13:48

Uyinene Mrwetyana, whose murder has galvanised the nation to speak out against the relentless abuse of women, was laid to rest today.

Her funeral was held at the Abbotsford Christian Centre in East London.

The 19-year-old University of Cape Town (UCT) student went missing last month. On Monday, a 42-year-old SA Post Office employee appeared at the Wynberg Magistrates’ Court this week and confessed to sexually assaulting and killing her.

Her funeral, which was broadcast live on national television, was attended by Police Minister Bheki Cele, UCT vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng, and family and friends of the first-year film and media studies student.

Speakers at the funeral recalled her fighting spirit, creative flair, musical talent and outspoken nature. In an emotional speech, her brother Esona expressed his remorse over not being there to protect his sister. He then broke down in tears.

Mrwetyana’s death sparked nationwide calls for action. Using the hashtag #AmINext, thousands of South African women took to social media to share their stories of sexual abuse, naming their abusers on an ever-growing list. #UyineneMrwetyana and #RIPUyinene were also trending this morning as social media users shared stories of femicide and expressed fear for their safety.

Read: #AmINext: Don’t get sued for telling your story

On Thursday, hundreds of women and activists marched to Parliament, chanting “Enough is enough” and demanding government intervention. President Cyril Ramaphosa accepted a memorandum of demands and told the protesters that he would make sure that funds were allocated to fighting gender-based violence and providing shelter for survivors.

Cases that galvanised us

Mrwetyana’s death is, sadly, just one of a number of cases that have spurred South Africans into action over the past decade. The country is one of the rape and femicide capitals of the world.

In 2008, the brutal murder of Eudy Simelane, a Banyana Banyana player and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer activist, brought the epidemic of rape and murder of lesbians in the townships into the spotlight. Simelane was abducted, beaten and gang-raped in KwaThema, outside Johannesburg.

Anni Dewani, Susan Rohde, Popi Qwabe, Bongeka Phungula, Karabo Mokoena, Noxolo Xakeka ... The list of cases that reached the headlines is long, yet very little has changed over the years.

Fury on campus

This week, the news of Mrwetyana’s murder sparked rage on campuses, with student survivors of gender-based violence and rape demanding that their institutions recognise the widespread trauma that has been experienced at the hands of men.

Academics and students from UCT gathered outside Parliament on Wednesday. Classes at the University of Pretoria were suspended from Monday after students held protests against gender-based violence. Nationwide, classes across campuses were suspended to allow for students to try to find a sense of healing and vent their feelings during protest marches.

In a statement sent to the university’s students and staff, UCT vice-chancellor Phakeng said: “Many survivors feel incredible anger because they have been let down by a legal system that should support and protect them.”

She added that UCT had created an online reporting tool that made it easier for students to report sexual and gender-based violence on campus.

Many survivors feel incredible anger because they have been let down by a legal system that should support and protect them

Structures including the university’s Office for Inclusivity and Change have been tasked with tracking cases, increasing transparency and ensuring that anonymous reporting is possible.

“It will allow the university to track perpetrators, identify potential hot spots and generate more data,” Phakeng said.

Self-protection plans are also under way at UCT. The university plans to provide staff and students with a sexual and gender-based violence toolkit and a personal alarm device, and it is supporting voluntary self-defence classes that were introduced at the beginning of the year.

When Ramaphosa addressed the nation on Thursday and spoke about measures government would take to deal with gender-based violence in the country, many women said they had heard him say these things before and feared the state was not doing enough.

Speaking at Mrwetyana’s funeral, Cele said one of the measures that they were looking into was training more women police officers to do front-desk work to make it easier for survivors to report crimes

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Uyinene, Femicide,
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Uyinene, Femicide
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October 13 2019