Dear Mrs Kidd, Mrs Evans and Mrs Keevy,
I don’t really know how to write this, which for me is quite telling. Today, while I was in economics I heard the news that a friend of mine – Uyinene Mrwetyana – had been raped and murdered after the news of her disappearance broke out last week. She had gone to the post office to collect a parcel when this happened to her. The perpetrator was an employee at the post office.
She had done everything “right”. She had done everything they had taught us. She had shared her uber trip location with a friend, was not wearing anything “provocative” (as if that means anything) and was merely running an inconsequential errand. An errand that ended in her death. She was 19 years old, a first year student majoring in film & media and had gone to a boarding school in the Eastern Cape. When I describe her like this, I realize it could have easily been me. It could have easily been Nezi. Or Caroline. Or any one of the girls at St. John’s. I cannot even tell you how many times I have gone to that post office or walked on that same road by myself.
I am writing this to you because our girls are unsafe. And I am worried sick about every single womxn in this country. In a country with the highest rate of femicide in the world where a womxn is murderdd every four hours, there is a war against our bodies and we have to fight back. It’s so unfortunate that the weight of the problem rests on the victim’s shoulders but I never want to have to hear this news ever again. Please make sure our girls are safe at school. Make sure they know how to fight back when they are not. Please make sure the girls download apps on their phone to ensure they always know exactly where all their friends are (I recommend Namola or Life360). I hope the conversations are still going at school because now, more than ever, do our girls need to be educated about the patriarchy & the target it puts on our backs. We need people who are going to change this country. I keep asking myself how we got to this point as a nation but I don’t know what else to expect from a country who’s last president was a rapist. The state has been complicit in gender-based violence and even continues to perpetuate it which is why I need my school to be raising leaders who are going to change this. We’re working hard here at UCT, even in our immense grief. We are wearing black on Wednesday in solidarity with Uyinene, holding vigils, writing letters to our institution, hosting protests and doing whatever we can to make sure her death was not in vain. It’s hard to fathom that at the best university in Africa, we are still not safe. Imagine what womxn and femme-bodies go through in Gugulethu or Khayelistha.
Lastly, I want to tell our girls to never tolerate the discomfort that comes with the male gaze. I know how intensely rape culture manifests at the same-sex schools nearby and I have memories flooding in of times when I or a friend was inappropriately touched or grabbed at a party. Or how many conversations I heard that objectified us and made us out to be sex objects for their consumption. Just recently, I heard about a boy who used to go to a prestigious same-sex school encourage his friend to get a girl he liked drunk and “strike when she’s out”. These are the behaviors that contribute to a society that allowed Uyinene to be raped and murdered and they are behaviors that are all too familiar. Confront your male friends about this. Call them out when they make you feel uncomfortable. Make sure they know they are not entitled to our bodies. Pay attention to the way in which your male friends respond to this. To who they keep as friends. Those who stay silent are just as complicit as the perpetrators. As womxn, we cannot afford to stay silent because our lives are on the line.
I am out of tears as I mourn for Uyinene and every womxn before her. What a way to end womxn’s month. I am missing you all so much, please please stay safe and keep Uyinene’s loved ones in your thoughts or prayers.