'This is not the country we fought for': Graça Machel at UCT memorial service for Uyinene Mrwetyana

04 September 2019 - 16:43 By Tanya Farber
Students and staff dressed in black fill Sarah Baartman Plaza at the University of Cape Town on September 4 2019 in memory of murdered student Uyinene Mrwetyana.
Students and staff dressed in black fill Sarah Baartman Plaza at the University of Cape Town on September 4 2019 in memory of murdered student Uyinene Mrwetyana.
Image: Tanya Farber

Some carried flowers, others had placards calling for the death penalty, but all wore black and arrived in their thousands to commemorate the life of first-year University of Cape Town student Uyinene Mrwetyana.

The 19-year-old's campus memorial took place on the steps of Sarah Baartman Hall and flowed all the way down the plaza to a podium where students placed flowers in memory of their slain friend as they waited for her family to arrive. Many could not hold back their tears when the choir and two opera singers sang in celebration of her life.

When the formal proceedings began, deputy vice-chancellor Loretta Feris told the crowd: "She was taken from us so tragically but we must honour this beautiful and promising young life even as it was cut short."

She told Uyinene’s family: "Your loss is our loss"

Anger and outrage followed the discovery of the body of missing 19-year-old UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana on September 02, 2019. She had been missing since August 24. A 42-year-old man who worked at the Clareinch Post office allegedly confessed to the rape and murder. Gender-based violence has been a national issue in South Africa for years, with 3 915 women and children being murdered in 2018.

Jenna Unsworth, who also lived at Mrwetyana's Roscommon House residence in Claremont, described how she met Mrwetyana this year and how she called her family to tell them about her new friend who had "infectious energy" and a "soul like no other".

Mrwetyana was a "magical soul", she said, and she and their friends at Roscommon House were distraught that they had not been there to help her.

She described the harrowing search for Mrwetyana after she disappeared on August 24  and added: "No words can describe the pain of looking for her, waiting for news and hoping for a miracle."


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Other friends, who were classmates in Mrwetyana's film and media studies course, said she was "the queen of the dance floor" and an immensely caring person.

"We are in immense pain and our hearts are broken. We are going to continue the fight against gender-based violence in her name," they said.

UCT chancellor Graça Machel speaks at the memorial service for Uyinene Mrwetyana on September 4 2019.
UCT chancellor Graça Machel speaks at the memorial service for Uyinene Mrwetyana on September 4 2019.
Image: Tanya Farber

The chair of UCT 's council, Sipho Pityana, described Mrwetyana’s murder as "barbaric, violent and cruel", adding: "Our homes are not safe. Our cinemas, our malls, our churches … nowhere is safe any more."

Deputy minister of higher education Buti Manamela said: "We are outraged. She should have been preparing for one day in the future when she wears her graduation gown.

"Young students face routine harassment, and this is part of how toxic masculinity has become institutionalised."

The final speaker, UCT chancellor Graça Machel, tapped into the zeitgeist by saying: "In South Africa, it is in our homes where we are nurturing and raising rapists and murderers.

"That is not happening in our classrooms, it is happening in our houses."

Her final anecdote struck a chord with those present as many of the speeches had mentioned how Mrwetyana was one of thousands of women who are beaten, injured, raped and killed across SA every day.

"I am the mother of a girl who lost her eye to gender violence," she said. "My daughter had two beautiful eyes and then a man raised his hand against her."

When Machel was struggling to come to terms with it, her daughter had comforted her by saying: "We are lucky because I am alive. I am here. I have one eye, and with that one eye I can see you and see my own children. Many others have died instantly."

Machel concluded: "I am so pained that Nene wasn’t lucky like my child. This is not the country we fought for."


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