There was a sombre and overwhelming sadness that prevailed the University of Cape Town (UCT)’s upper campus on Monday night, as hundreds of students held a vigil in honour of murdered student Uyinene Mrwetyana, known fondly as Nene. Students were overcome with emotion as they came to grips with the devastating details of Nene’s death, as revealed by the perpetrator in court on Monday.
On 24th August, Nene had gone to collect a package at South African Post Office in Claremont when she was bludgeoned with a scale by one of the male staff members. He then raped and killed her, discarding of her body. DNA tests are being conducted on a body found in Khayelitsha at the weekend. The 42-year-old post office worker confessed to the rape and murder and has been charged.
“It was an exceptionally harrowing experience. The atmosphere was really mournful – you could hear members of the really large crowd crying out, holding one another and taking in the atmosphere,” said UCT student, Aaliyah Vayez.
“Students from Wits, Rhodes and other universities expressed their solidarity and we had survivors of gender-based violence come and speak to us.”
News of her death comes in the wake of the murder of University of the Western Cape student Jesse Hess, who was killed with her grandfather in their Parow home. Hess was found murdered in her bed, while her grandfather was discovered tied up in the toilet.
Vayez indicated that several speakers at the vigil sent their condolences to Mrwetyana’s family and friends and that as a whole, the university community seems to be in shock and pain.
UCT’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng wrote to the university community about the untimely death of Mrwetyana, calling it “incomprehensible” that her life has been stolen in such a manner.
Despite Professor Phakeng’s statement, however, some students are not satisfied.
“Students were not satisfied with the response,” said Vayez.
“The sense from last night is that students want to see a visible change…Students are really unhappy with the state of South Africa at large.”
Vayez added that criminal activity is no stranger to UCT. She says that cars are stolen from campus “on a weekly basis” and that incidents of rape and sexual harassment occur with survivors having to walk on the campus premises “with their rapists”. She says that females at the university are “sick of it”.
UCT’s Student Representative Council has called for a campus-wide shutdown of all academic activities at the university, tomorrow. Meanwhile, students were called on to wear black clothing in support of Mrwetyana and her family today.
When asked about the male response to the situation and vigil at the university, Vayez said that the presence of men is violent and that accordingly it was not appropriate for them to have a voice or presence at the site.
“Men were silent because I don’t think it’s their space and I don’t think it’s their time to speak up or even have a presence at these sites. Their presence is so violent to so many women who have survived gender-based violence,” she said.
“I think right now, it’s time for women’s voices and stories and for women to re-engage with the power within themselves – we don’t need their [men’s] protection and we shouldn’t need their protection…this is the time of the woman and the girl child, not of the men, their voices or their power. “