What action are you taking against SGBV?

24 August 2021 | Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

Dear students and colleagues

The deeply shocking murder of University of Fort Hare Law student Nosicelo Mtebeni strikes too close to home. Just two years ago this week, we were reeling from the rape and murder of University of Cape Town (UCT) Humanities student Uyinene Mrwetyana. Today I am devastated that I feel the same heartache I felt in 2019. On behalf of UCT, I extend our heartfelt condolences to Nosicelo’s family, friends and the University of Fort Hare community on this terrible loss.

South Africa is being robbed of our bright stars of the future.

Nosicelo had her heart set on making a difference. Her classmate told the media that Nosicelo wanted to be appointed as a Constitutional Court judge someday. To aim for such a goal, she must have had loving and confident support from her family and friends. She must have felt empowered to serve her country.

You and I may never have met Nosicelo in person. But we all know other young womxn like her. They attend UCT and other universities. They believe in what they can offer this country. They are preparing themselves to serve us.

Other girls and womxn are serving South Africa by working hard at their jobs or in school, by caring for their families, by working with their neighbours to hold their communities together through so many difficulties. What are we doing to protect them and the future they want to build?

Every year, across our country, in all kinds of communities and homes, womxn and girls face sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) from the men they look to for love and protection: whether it is a boyfriend or a husband, a father or other relative, a neighbour or friend or colleague at work or in school or university.

You and I may not know these womxn and girls. But they are our responsibility. I am asking you to make a commitment, before you stop reading this email, to do what you can to protect the future they hold. Because there are effective actions each of us can take.

Send a digital letter/postcard to Parliament. UCT’s Office of Inclusivity and Change (OIC) is helping to coordinate this national campaign on campus, to petition Parliament to end violence against, and the exploitation of, womxn and girls. The Uyinene Mrwetyana Foundation website provides a template where you can write your message and submit it to be forwarded to Parliament. All submissions will be attached as a petition to be received by the Presidency on Saturday, 28 August. Your voice can make a difference, even if COVID-19 prevents us from gathering in a physical demonstration.

Support the OIC “Empowered Through Vulnerability” survivor support series. Yumna Seadat is hosting weekly live engagements on life after sexual violence and post-traumatic growth, featuring input by expert panellists and survivors of sexual violence from the UCT Survivor Support Group. These sessions, streamed via Zoom and Instagram Live, include segments on the survivors’ lived experiences, criminal prosecution, mental health diagnosis and well-being (including rape trauma syndrome), myths and stigmas surrounding rape and what life is like after sexual violence and trauma. Everyone is welcome to participate.

I call on each of you to commit to one of these actions if you are not already involved in directly fighting SGBV. I especially call on the men of UCT to rise up and help to hold each other accountable for the attitudes, unconscious behaviour and direct actions that contribute to SGBV.

Every womxn who is destroyed by SGBV had something to offer her family, community and country. Through SGBV we lost that significant potential. It is our responsibility to do everything we can to end this destruction.

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