The inaugural Uyinene Mrwetyana Commemorative Lecture was held on Monday, 29 March, to celebrate the legacy of the University of Cape Town (UCT) student whose life was cut brutally short in 2019.
The inaugural lecture took place as a live broadcast from Kingswood College, Mrwetyana’s high school in Makhanda, in partnership with the Uyinene Mrwetyana Foundation. It took place less than a month before what would have been her 21st birthday on 20 April 2021, and future lectures will continue to take place close to this date.
UCT alumnus and Human Sciences Research Council chief research specialist Dr Alude Mahali delivered the keynote address, joining the live broadcast virtually from Johannesburg. Dr Mahali obtained her PhD from UCT, co-authored Studying While Black: Race, education and emancipation in South African universities with UCT adjunct Associate Professor Sharlene Swartz and serves on the advisory board of the Uyinene Mrwetyana Foundation.
“Uyinene was a fighter and she fought up until she drew her last breath.”
The foundation was established in 2019 to celebrate Uyi-Uyi (as she was fondly known, among other nicknames), with the overarching aims of empowering young people and standing against violence.
“Uyinene was a fighter and she fought up until she drew her last breath. Her fight will continue through this foundation and her legacy will be one of activism, of change, of empathy, of hope, of honesty, of compassion and justice,” said Mahali.
In her address, Mahali explained how the foundation would fight gender-based violence in three focus areas, thereby fulfilling Mrwetyana’s lifelong vision of fighting all forms of injustice against women.
The first focus area is the prevention of gender-based violence, which the foundation hopes to action through awareness campaigns, educating and training communities, and advocacy. The second focus area is offering holistic support services, which include psychosocial support to survivors, safe havens for displaced women and children, and continuing to partner with existing organisations that support survivors. The third area is a holistic youth development programme.
Thus far, the foundation has undertaken numerous activities, including writing an open letter to national government; entering into a partnership with MultiChoice (#AriseAndSpeakOut); making donations to women’s shelters; hosting seminars, including one on men’s violence against women; continuing a partnership with Distell (#BodyofEvidence); and hosting a cohort of youth volunteers.
Speak up, stand up
Speaking to the young people watching at Kingswood College and those tuned in online, Mahali urged them to learn from Mrwteyana’s life and legacy.
“Our wish for young people is that you take the best parts of Uyinene and you remain defiant and you challenge bigotry and you speak up for those who struggle to speak for [themselves].”
“Speak up even when your voice shakes, even when your voice trembles, even when it’s difficult,” she said.
Mahali added that Mrwetyana had used social media to share her views on social ills and social justice and to further her activism, and she urged young people to use these platforms to listen, learn and have meaningful interactions.
“Speak up even when your voice shakes, even when your voice trembles, even when it’s difficult.”
“Take opportunities to make meaningful interactions with and to learn from people who have differences, who have conflicting views to yours and what you believe in [and] what you value.”
“Commit to having honest, thoughtful and significant conversations about difficult things, about controversial things, about race, about gender and about other social boundaries that separate us. Learn to talk about difference and to not lead with fear or discrimination,” said Mahali.
Finally, she called on everyone to do their part in building a better South Africa.
“There is a lot of work to be done and the work is not for me to do alone. It’s not for Uyinene to have done alone. It’s not for us as the foundation to do alone. It’s not for schools to do alone.
“The work belongs to all of us as citizens of South Africa.”
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