University of Cape Town (UCT) student Uyinene Mrwetyana’s memory will forever be etched in the hearts and minds of South Africans following her brutal rape and murder at the hands of a post office employee in 2019.
Luyanda Botha was handed a life sentence for her murder, two life sentences on two counts of rape and five years for defeating the course of justice by the Western Cape High Court in the same year after he confessed to the deed.
What astounded the country and the world is how something as routine as running an errand to the post office could lead to something as devastating as rape and death.
Four years after her death, Uyinene’s older brother, Esona (25) – also a UCT student – remembers his sister as the family’s “special torch bearer”.
“I always think of the memories we had together, and I tend to go through periods of reflection: Am I doing her proud? Is what I’m heading towards making her proud? And sometimes, I feel like I’m falling short and that’s when I try to work towards a higher standard for myself and that’s how I keep her memory alive inside of myself,” Esona said.
“I’ll always miss having her loud voice in the house directing our path. That was special about her.”
“She was opposite to me; she had a fearless spirit about her and was very outgoing. She tended to make people in the room comfortable when she was around. She was the one in the household holding us accountable. I’ll always miss having her loud voice in the house directing our path. That was special about her.”
At the time of her untimely death, Uyinene was studying towards a BA degree in media studies while Esona, who graduated in 2021, was working towards a BSc in civil engineering.
“The foundation was created to honour my sister. It was also created to advocate for the eradication of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and femicide in South Africa,” Esona reflected.
“Any initiative that the foundation is part of in some way positively affects someone’s life … be it creating safer spaces in schooling or communities. It also provides an opportunity for young boys and men to learn of better roles they can play.
“If the foundation continues to foster those environments, then it will always be honouring her memory because those are the things she advocated for.”
The circumstances leading to Uyinene’s death are ghastly.
On 8 August 2019, Uyinene arrived at the Clareinch Post Office to ask about her pending parcel. It arrived a week later, on 16 August, and was logged in by Botha. It was only on Saturday, 24 August, that Botha lured Uyinene to the post office under the guise that she could come and collect her item.
Once there, Botha attacked, raped and murdered the then first-year Humanities student. After leaving her in a safe overnight, he returned the following day and transported and dumped her body in Khayelitsha in a shallow grave and set it alight.
Her body was discovered on 26 August, and she was laid to rest on 7 September.
Botha was sentenced on 15 November.
Uyinene’s death sparked outrage and prompted a national conversation and questions from women and children: #AmINext?
Presenting crime statistics for 2019/2020 in July 2020, Minister of Police Bheki Cele revealed that 3 481 women were sexually assaulted in the reporting year; 25 801 women were raped and 2 695 were murdered.
Esona knows all too well the feeling of seeing such statistics, knowing his younger sister was a victim of the grim violence.
“It’s never easy for me to speak about my sister. The people I’m most comfortable sharing her memory with are my mother and father.
“When birthdays come around, it’s never easy. Sometimes I say a prayer on the day [and] look back at our pictures and videos,” said Esona.
Judge Gayaat Salie, handing down Botha’s sentence in 2019, had this to say: “No sentence imposed by this court can bring back your lovely daughter and loved one. However, I hope it brings closure to this chapter of the legal proceedings of this harrowing and life-changing event for your family and the community that you represent. Hopefully too, it will slowly help you in the difficult path and painful journey of your healing.
“She fought bravely and courageously to ward off this gruesome attack on her. This was indeed a heinous and cruel act and crime. Though it may be cold comfort to you today, it is not without significance that she was a fighter and clearly had a fighting spirit for her life. She is, and she will remain, the hero and an iconic champion in the pursuit of reducing and ending the epidemic of gender-based violence.
“Indeed, the killing, violence and abuse of women, our daughters, our sisters, mothers, wives and baby girls has become a daily social ill in our country and across the globe. Uyinene’s fighting spirit and her legacy will continue to give a voice to other women who suffer daily as victims ... ultimately, the court wishes you well in the healing of your grief, so that you are ultimately able to celebrate the life of Uyinene; the warmth and the joy she brought.”
Speaking about SGBV
Esona, now currently studying towards a master’s in risk management of financial markets, knows all about the identikit formed against men when matters of SGBV and #MenAreTrash come to the fore.
“We don’t have any other choice but to try and be active and participate in conversations as much as we can.”
He said: “It’s never easy to articulate yourself well. For me it’s overwhelming because it affects me a lot. It isn’t easy for me to engage in those conversations.
“I tended to shy away from them maybe as a coping mechanism. But I do feel encouraged to speak on things related to the foundation and that’s an outlet for me.”
Much has happened since the events of August 2019. The foundation in her honour continues its work in earnest in streams of youth development and community engagement, among others.
The annual unity walk is held around this time in August and serves as a commemoration of Uyinene’s life. It begins at Roscommon Residence and proceeds to Clareinch Post Office.
Esona admitted he’s never felt the need to be stoic when special events like birthdays and graduation come around because “it gets better with time because you plan for these events”, but, for graduation, there remains a void knowing his younger sister did not get the opportunity to do so.
He also said that he hopes men will hold one another accountable.
“We don’t have any other choice but to try and be active and participate in conversations as much as we can.
“The message we men must take forward is to hold each other accountable. I know a lot of things stem from attitudes we have as friends and discussions you have as friends … it’s important to have proper structured friendship groups where we help each other understand and productively help you see what is wrong with what you are doing and how it’s important to change your attitude or change your ways.”
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