Dear parents, guardians, fee payers and sponsors of UCT students
In light of recent events at the University of Cape Town (UCT), I wanted to update you on the situation that has unfolded on our campus and spread into our communities – with staff, students, local schools and members of the public rising up to stand against sexual and gender-based violence in our country.
One of our first-year students, Uyinene ‘Nene’ Mrwetyana, was recently reported missing, having last been seen on Saturday, 24 August. On Wednesday, 28 August, the Executive Director for Student Affairs and I, accompanied by other university leaders, met with the Mrwetyana family to offer our support. In addition to the work being carried out by the South African Police Service (SAPS) and UCT’s Campus Protection Services (CPS), three private investigators were appointed by the family, Roscommon House and the university respectively.
On 2 September, we were unfortunately able to confirm that Nene had been killed in tragic circumstances. The death of this young female student was absolutely devastating and shocked the university community to the core. It is even more distressing that this is just one of many women in our communities, in our country, who have been violated in this manner.
The university executive remains deeply disturbed by the unacceptable levels of violence perpetuated against women and vulnerable and marginalised people in South Africa on a daily basis. This is the main driver behind the UCT gender-based violence campaign that has been running since July, urging us all to rise up and say #JustNO to sexual and gender-based violence.
A decision was made to suspend academic classes on Wednesday, 4 September, to allow students and staff to participate in protests against sexual and gender-based violence, and to attend the memorial events planned for Nene. On Wednesday morning, the staff and student picket at Parliament quickly swelled to over 3 000 people, calling on government to take decisive action against the scourge of sexual and gender-based violence in our country. At the memorial service for Nene on Wednesday afternoon, thousands of staff, students, friends and family gathered, dressed in black, to mourn her loss.
Classes have also been suspended for today, Thursday, 5 September, and Friday, 6 September, to allow staff and students the space to heal and to move forward. We recognise that Nene was a member of the greater UCT community and that many people in her residence, Roscommon House; in her classes; in her faculty; and in the wider UCT community have been profoundly affected by her death.
Students experiencing any distress have been encouraged to utilise the SADAG UCT Student Careline (0800 24 25 26 or SMS 31393 for a callback), which offers 24/7 telephonic counselling, referrals and general mental health support. The UCT Student Wellness Service has also made arrangements for individual and group debriefings for students, extending their hours of service to offer students proper access to care.
We live in a country where crime is a reality, and it does affect all of us, but the safety of students and staff remains the university’s highest priority. At the end of 2018 CPS totally reviewed all its operations with the assistance of an external security consultant. Recommendations were made on improving technology, physical security, human capital and creating awareness, and we started implementing these earlier this year, including upgrading our closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras to improve surveillance.
Campus Protection Services (CPS) works closely with the South African Police Service (SAPS) to target certain crime categories, deploying CPS staff to focus on crime hotspots. We have also extended our partnership with the Groote Schuur Community Improvement District to secure the campus perimeter. Our ongoing crime-awareness campaign, which began in the middle of the year, highlights personal safety, personal property safety, vehicle safety, and more.
The CPS emergency number (021 650 2222/3) is printed on the back of every UCT identity card, and I want to encourage you, the parents, to call this number if you are ever concerned about the safety of your child on campus.
Many survivors feel incredible anger and have been let down by a legal system that should support and protect them. It is understandable that they turn to naming and shaming. Yet, this act is not legal and is inefficient in prosecuting the alleged perpetrator and achieving justice. We have urged students and staff to instead use the available channels to lay charges against alleged perpetrators so that due legal process is followed.
It is important that as a community we recognise the significance of this moment. We must use this opportunity to remember Nene and rise up against sexual and gender-based violence at our university, in our communities, and in this country.
We, as a community and as an executive team, were deeply touched and affected by the memorial and other activities that happened yesterday. Staff and students, many of whom are survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, stood side by side, mourning for Nene, themselves and for others. No doubt, some were seething with anger, but they were there, trying to make a difference, showing solidarity, eager to find solutions to this scourge that has beset our nation. There was a dignity to it that was befitting the moment and spoke volumes about a shared humanity.
It is our intention that all classes will resume on Monday next week.
Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng
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