The annual Uyinene Mrwetyana unity walk, themed “United Against GBVF”, took place on Saturday, 26 August, in remembrance of the life of the University of Cape Town (UCT) student who was raped and murdered in 2019. It served as a reminder of the scourge of sexual, gender-based violence and femicide (SGBVF) in the country.
The aim of this year’s walk was to encourage boys to become men of good character, rather than partake in violence against women and children, which is often associated with men.
Pain and angst were writ large on the faces of those who gathered to remember Uyinene – four years after she was raped and murdered at the Clareinch Post Office in Claremont, Cape Town.
Her death sent shockwaves across the country and the world. Since then, her fighting spirit has been kept alive through various initiatives, including the unity walk, organised with the Uyinene Mrwetyana Foundation (UMF), in conjunction with UCT and several other stakeholders.
Speaking on the steps of the post office, Uyinene’s mother, Nomangwane Mrwetyana, was clear: “The wound is still oozing. It’s still very open. As a family, we appreciate you all for walking this journey with us. To the men that are here, please hold each other accountable. It is not nice, as you can see. It is still a great loss.”
“I remember Mrs Mrwetyana saying, ‘I’m sorry that of all the places I could have warned you about, I didn’t mention the post office’.”
She then called upon the relevant decision-makers to change the image of the site of her daughter’s killing: “This place cannot continue as a post office; we want this place that caused pain to us to be transformed into a place of healing – whatever that will mean. Be it a museum, a wellness centre, library … but something that will add value to the young people of the country.”
“Keep thinking about us, [and] keep praying for us. We stand with all victims of GBV.”
Uyinene’s older brother, Esona, reflected on the unity walk, saying: “The remembrance march is bigger than me; I tend to not think about how I am feeling, but focus on what it is trying to achieve. I know the bigger picture is to promote something bigger than one person.”
Members of the UMF and UCT’s executive joined the Mrwetyana family on the walk.
Western Cape Health MEC, Dr Nomafrench Mbombo, and KwaLanga Ward 51 councillor, Lwazi Pakade, joined the commemoration as well.
UCT Deputy Vice-Chancellor (DVC) for Transformation, Student Affairs and Social Responsiveness Professor Elelwani Ramugondo said, “Beyond serving as a commemoration of Uyinene’s life, the walk will show support for everyone affected by SGBV as we stand as a unified community with students and staff from the Western Cape in the commitment to eradicate SGBV.”
Professor Ramugondo spoke about the deep sense of pain that reverberated after Uyinene’s death, saying although many had never met the first-year Humanities student, it felt like “we had always known her”.
“When she lost her life the way she did, it felt like we lost a daughter, a sister, and a niece. It touched us so deeply that we knew that we can never forget her,” said Ramugondo.
“We commemorate a beautiful soul. I remember Mrs Mrwetyana saying [as she reflected on her warning to her daughter], ‘I’m sorry that of all the places I could have warned you about, I didn’t mention the post office’.”
Dr Mbombo said that mothers are tired of mourning their children, and that the task to end the scourge remains in the hands of men.
Students’ Representative Council (SRC) president, Hlengiwe Gugulethu Lisa Dube, aimed her speech at young boys, as did several other speakers.
Dube recited a cadence, calling out to men to show deference to women.
“Can someone please tell a man that the gift between my thighs is not a present. He is not invited to this temple. Can someone please tell a man, stop. Can someone please tell a man he cannot continue to kill me; kill my spirit; kill my courage; kill my faith; kill my hope.
“Today we gather to honour a life that was stolen from us. In this solemn moment, we come to shed light on a theme of focusing on the boy child.”
She continued: “I believe in a positive change and the focus on the boy child reminds us that our fight for justice and equality is holistic. We cannot overlook the importance of raising our young boys correctly to grow up to be respectful, compassionate men.
“Our struggle for gender equality does not mean neglecting the boy child … we need to redefine masculinity. We need to teach our boys that strength is not dominance but using one’s power to protect and uplift. Uyinene’s memory charges us with duty to cultivate a generation of men who stand against all forms of violence,” said Dube.
Consent, a non-negotiable
Pakade’s call to action was that men need to understand that consent is non-negotiable. He said the SGBV fetid around men has reached its most foul stench.
“We are here today because a man decided to take what was not given to him. Consent is consent. There is no subtleness in a ‘no’,” he said.
“We must also foster a culture of non-toxic masculinity. As men, the perpetrators, we cannot be silent in times like these, and it cannot be left to women as if they face this scourge against themselves,” he added.
To the family, Pakade offered a scripture he recited in isiXhosa from the gospel of Romans 8:18, “Kuba ndigqiba kwelithi, iintlungu zeli xesha lakalokunje azinakulinganiswa nobuqaqawuli obuza kutyhilwa kuthi.” (For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us).
Speaking from Langa For Men, a movement against gender-based violence, founder, Luyolo Lengisi, was unequivocal: “We are here because of men who have failed in honouring the spirit of human beings and have no respect for women. Our boys cannot be part of a broken society … they need spaces for their own vulnerability. We must change the language of romanticising violence among men.”
Towards the end of the walk, led by UMF advisory board member Langa Nyanda, men took a pledge against SGBVF. “The pledge is for us men to echo it to other men in places where we are comfortable, where we can cause discomfort. This fight is going to require men who are brave and don’t want to be liked,” he said.
Others who spoke at the unity walk include students Kumkani Goqoza, Lihle Rulashe, Ajani Mnyandu as well as Masi Buso from the UMF and Sikelelwa Kwinana from the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET).
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