By ZAKEELAH JANSEN and SUE MACLENNAN
Up until Monday morning, the mother of murdered University of Cape Town (UCT) student Uyinene Mrwetyana had no doubt her daughter would still return.
“The Mrwetyana family are devastated,” said Colleen Vassiliou, Head of Kingswood College, during a service in the school’s chapel on Monday night for ‘Nene’, who matriculated in Makhanda (Grahamstown) last year. “We mourn a young life taken from us too soon.”
Meanwhile Rhodes University, where Nene’s mother works, has condemned her violent death and is setting up a fund to support the family during this time.
An intensive search by friends, family, police and private investigators began after Nene, 19, was reported missing from her off-campus residence in Claremont, Cape Town, on Saturday 24 August. On Monday 2 September, a 42-year-old Post Office employee appeared in the Wynberg Magistrate’s Court, charged with Nene’s rape and murder, as well as defeating the ends of justice.
According to news reports, the Clareinch Post Office was where she was last seen. Her body was found in Khayelitsha. The man was remanded in custody after pleading guilty and his next appearance is scheduled for 5 November according to Eyewitness News.
Vassiliou has been in close contact with Nomangwane Mrwetyana since Nene was reported missing. She related how Noma had spoken to Nene earlier that Saturday about her planned visit. Noma, who is Director of Student Affairs at Rhodes University had booked her flight and was due to land in Cape Town last Monday morning.
She’d asked Nene what she should bring her. Nene had asked for a cellphone charger.
It was tiny heart-rending details such as this, and quiet tears in the packed chapel that brought home the gap Nene’s death has left in her family, for her former schoolmates and for her new friends and classmates at UCT.
The moving service paid tribute to Nene and recognised the pain of those affected by her death with the lighting of seven symbolic candles and prayers led by staff and school leaders. Gervase Makoni lit the first, for Nene herself. The second was for her family and the third for her friends. The fourth was for the Kingswood community.
Nene was a talented musician and one speaker recalled how last year, she’d raised the roof with her saxophone-playing in the chapel.
Houseperson at the girls’ hostel where Nene lived was Dianne Price, who spoke of the “beautiful, cheerful, clever” young woman. It was details like “her deep, confident voice” and “when she laughed her eyes would screw up” that proved most moving.
Chairperson of the school’s Council Di Hornby acknowledged Nene’s new friends at UCT, as well as students around the country who were feeling the shock and pain of her senseless death.
Introducing the sixth candle, for South Africa, Vassiliou said, “because our country is bleeding”.
Grade 12 Head Tracy Molendorff spoke about Nene’s insightful contributions in Economics classes, towards solving socio-economic disparities. “She truly was an angel.”
Vassiliou lit the seventh and last candle for faith in a greater power – “for God’s Kingdom”.
Members of the Rhodes University SRC attended the service and afterwards quietly greeted Nene’s close circle who had remained in the chapel, arms around eachother’s shoulders.
In a statement issued on Monday 2 September, Rhodes said the University community was devastated by the news of Uyinene’s death.
“A young woman with a very bright and promising future ahead of her met her death in the most brutal and violent manner. What is even more shocking about this vicious act, is that it happened during a month set aside to celebrate women of our country.
“As a University, we condemn, in the strongest possible terms, such acts that seeks to undermine the strides made to ensure that all citizens, more especially women, are able to live in an environment free of all forms of violence. Violence towards women must just stop! No parent deserves to experience the agony and trauma of having their child suffer such a horrific death.”
In social media posts, Rhodes students have been invited to attend a vigil for Nene at the Drostdy Lawns at 4.30pm on Tuesday 3 September. Also circulating on social media is a petition calling for violence against women to be recognised as a national emergency.
UCT Vice Chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said the University was shocked to the core.
“It is incomprehensible that a young life, with so much potential, has been stolen from her family and our community.”
The University had been in constant communication with Nene’s family, said Phakeng.
“We will keep them in our thoughts and will do whatever we can to support them.”
Staff and students were assured of counselling assistance in dealing with the tragedy.
“The university executive remains deeply distressed by the unacceptable levels of violence perpetuated against women and the marginalised in South African society on a daily basis. We hear too often of cases like this – it is a deep wound and we must all act together against this horrific scourge,” Phakeng said.
“The UCT executive will be meeting urgently to discuss how we can commemorate Nene’s life and the many in our society who are affected by violence.”
UCT students held a vigil for Nene on Monday night.
On 3 September a vigil was held by Rhodes to show support for the Mrwetyana family, friends of Uyinene and others who were affected by the loss. Attendees dressed in black – mourning the loss in solidarity. The vigil was well-attended.
Vice Chancellor, Sizwe Mabizela said “A young woman with a bright and promising future ahead of her met her death in the most brutal and violent manner. This act of cruelty was committed during a month set aside to celebrate women of our country”.
Mabizela stated that the Mrwetyana’s loss was everyone’s loss and that gender-based violence was everyone’s fight. He further stated that she did not deserve to die in the manner that she did, and her “only crime was to born a girl”.
Former SRC President, Nhlakanipho Mahlangu, spoke about gender-based violence, stating that Mrwetyana will be remembered as the girl who was brutally murdered and raped, and not as a fashionista, student, friend, sister and daughter.
Antonique Dick, a second-year journalism student and one of the many whom attended the vigil, said in frustration “violence against women is a recurring issue, just last year we mourned the death of one of our own. Khensani [Maseko] felt that the system failed her and committed suicide. In 2017 an RUReference list was started with hopes of exposing perpetrators, but this year we are dealing again with gender-based violence”.
6 September, Rhodes students marched under the banner #EnoughisEnough, singing struggle songs and holding placards against gender-based violence and rape culture. There was an estimated 60 – 80 students who partook in the march. “We are standing in solidarity with other movements in the country”, said Keiryn O’Connor, a participant. “Personally, I wrote on my body, I want my body to be the poster”, she added.
A local candlelit prayer service will be held at Makana City Hall today, 6 September at 11am. The service, lead by Executive Mayor Mzukisi Mpahlwa follows the ongoing violence against women and children in the country.
Mrwetyana’s funeral will be held at 7am this Saturday 7 September in East London.
- Additional reporting by Kathryn Cleary.