The site of UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana’s violent death, Clareinch Post Office in Cape Town, is set to be transformed into a wellness centre. Speaking at the launch of the Uyinene Mrwetyana Foundation in Makhanda this week, Nomangwane Mrwetyana said this was one way they would honour her daughter’s legacy and celebrate everything she stood for.
Uyinene was raped and murdered there three months ago. A former post office worker pleaded guilty and on 15 November was handed three life sentences.
In Makhanda, on Friday 29 November, a 400-strong march through the city centre started and ended at Kingswood College, where Uyinene matriculated last year. The school’s High Performance Centre was the venue for moving and inspiring presentations by friends, high-profile activists and Nomangwane herself.
Uyinene had not chosen to be the poster girl for the fight against gender based violence, her family said, but the young woman’s strong sense of social justice, fighting spirit and sheer courage had left a legacy that couldn’t be ignored.
The launch of the Foundation marked for the family the point of crossing from mourning “Uyi-Uyi”’s death to celebrating her life, said Nomangwane.
Nomangwane started by expressing her heartfelt sympathy for the parents of Limpopo student Precious Ramabulana, who was murdered last weekend.
Echoing the earlier words of writer and political commentator Malaika Mahlatsi and addressing the young people in the room, Nomangwane said, “Gender based violence is the struggle of your time.”
The Uyinene Mrwetyana Foundation would focus on:
- Prevention of gender-based violence;
- Provision of holistic support services for survivors of GBV;
- Youth leadership development.
Elaborating on these, Nomangwane said prevention of GBV required education and training about GBV in communities.
“We need to go knocking from door to door and go straight into families,” she said. “Because the reality is that boys are socialised within families before they even become part of society.
“We need to go back to the basics,” Nomangwane said. “We need to go back to the broken foundations of families. We cannot continue as mothers to raise abantwana who later become perpetrators of gender based violence.”
Holistic support for survivors meant providing social, mental, spiritual, physical and emotional support.
“We want to provide safe havens for women and children affected by GBV.”
Strategic partners in this would be health care workers, health care facilities, holistic well-being service providers and the police.
“We want to change physical spaces in our communities that have been associated with trauma and violence into spaces of healing.”
The Clareinch Post Office where Uyinene was murdered was one such place and would be transformed into a wellness centre, Nomangwane said.
Youth leadership development included transformation of curricula and capacitating young people to stand against GBV in our communities, she said.
“We want to partner with institutions of higher learning to provide accredited courses on gender sensitive leadership skills.”
Mahlatsi and Dean of Research at the University of Fort Hare Professor Pumla Gqola shared the dreams for safety and well-being of a group of young people who earlier had participated in a hackathon intended to focus the Foundation’s vision and mission.
“Teaching consent as an active, dynamic way of communication in our everyday lives came up very strongly,” they said.
United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka was unable to attend the launch and her keynote address was screened in the venue.
She called for a co-ordinated multistakeholder approach in reducing violence against women – “police, activists, prosecution authorities, the health department and the media”.
Mlambo-Ngcuka also spoke about changing the norms and behaviour of men and boys.
“It’s never too early to start this work,” she said. “Those who are older or more privileged need to be spokespeople and take a stand. In this issue, there cannot be bystanders.
“We must change the nature of society so in the first place we can prevent these acts of violence.
“Count on us as UN women as a partner,” Mlambo Ngcuka said. “Nothing is more important than to eliminate violence against women and homophobia.”
Mlambo-Ngcuka was emphatic about the power of the criminal justice system in preventing GBV.
“Leaders of the institutions whose job it is to prosecute crimes against women – when these institutions work correctly, perpetrators will have something to be afraid of.”
Messages of support and solidarity came too from University of Cape Town Vice Chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng, Britain’s Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle, Springbok rugby player Masixole Mapimpi.
Rhodes University Vice Chancellor Sizwe Mabizela was among those who earlier marched with the Foundation’s banner through the city, as did school principals Colleen Vassiliou (Kingswood), Warren Schmidt (Victoria Girls’ High School) and Joubert Retief (PJ Olivier). Social Development MEC Siphokazi Mani, Makana Mayor Mzukisi Mpahlwa and senior councillor Ramie Xonxa participated in the march and the launch.
The proceedings were led by award-winning journalist Imam Rapetti.
Rhodes Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation Peter Clayton announced a Masters scholarship for research to support the Foundation, matching the scholarship recently announced by UCT.
“We would be glad if every university in South Africa did something similar,” Clayton said.
Former classmates Lubabalo Zote, Lavela Booi and Sino Norman paid tribute. “She always spoke out against injustice and for equality for all.”
Emily Fryer played a saxophone tribute to her friend and former bandmate. Music, fashion and dancing were some of the things Uyinene loved, friends and family said.
Family spokesperson and Uyinene’s uncle, Thembelani Mrwetyana, speaking to Grocott’s Mail ahead of the launch emphasised that the Foundation was intended to commemorate his niece’s life.
“We as a family are choosing to remember her as a fighter – young, self confident, colourful… We are not choosing to remember her as the victim of a heinous crime but rather a young lady who stood up for what she believed in.”
Nomangwane too spoke of Uyinene’s colourful legacy.
“She brought love and positive energy to everyone that she came across… that is the Uyinene we raised and set free to impact lives positively… She was forthright and confident and courageous.
But while the family is moving forward, the pain of losing their child is far from over.
“There is no closure,” Thembelani earlier told Grocott’s Mail. “Rather what we are doing is moving from one chapter to the next. The court case was one chapter and now we are entering a new one of launching the Foundation. It’s ongoing. There’s no closure, We’re still grappling with learning to live without her.”
During yesterday’s launch, Nomangwane said, “We lost our daughter to an act she detested with every thread of her being – that of gender based violence.
“Uyi-Uyi spoke out passionately about wrongs in society. It is very painful that we lost her to the very same violence that she stood against.
“It is a pain that as a mother I would not wish anyone to experience.”