Trigger warning: mentions of violence, rape, murder.
South Africa has failed women.
South African men have never disgusted me more than right now. My blood boils today because we have lost yet another sister at the hands of a violent man. Do you know what word is becoming synonymous with South Africa?
Killing women and girls for being women and girls.
On August 24, 2019, South African social media erupted with the hashtag #bringNenehome. In less than 24 hours, friends of the 19-year-old Cape Town student knew something was wrong. They knew their beloved Uyinene Mrwetyana had been taken. We needed to get her back and like so many across the land, we clung to the hope that she would be found.
For 10 days we held our breath. For 10 days we prayed for her safe return.
But on September 2, 2019, all hopes were shattered. Reports began to emerge that a man had been arrested and charged with Nene’s murder and rape. It didn’t take him long to confess, telling the police where he buried her.
“Yhuuu undisokolisile ke lamntana. Ufe kade,” he boasted in isiXhosa, which roughly translates to “Wow! Hey! This child gave me trouble. It took her forever to die.”
I was sitting in the doctor’s office when I read those words.
My blood turned cold and my heart shattered into a thousand pieces. Something about Nene’s photo had been tugging inside me for the last few days, because although I had never met her, I felt with absolute certainty that I knew her.
Later that evening, I realized that Nene’s mother was the woman who handled my sexual assault case in 2018. uMam’ Noma Mrwetyana helped me escape a violent man and I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for her. She fought tirelessly to help hundreds of women appeal and fight against violent men.
I cannot imagine her pain knowing that her own daughter was taken by one. This world is too cruel.
“I want to say so many things but I feel so empty. She was so bright. Bright in light, in laughter, intrigue and talent… and now things just feel empty,” wrote Nene’s friend in a Facebook post.
Similarly, I saw so much of her light in her mother – feisty, strong, and so kind. It is clear that she was so loved. I realized that everyone in my circles is close to someone who went to school with Nene, grew up with her, or met her once through someone else. All of us could feel the cries of the thousands of people whose lives she had touched.
Nene was murdered at a post office in midday. If we are not even safe at the post office, a government building in broad daylight, where are we safe?
A society that is free from fear of crime is essential, not only as a basic human right, but also as the foundation of a country. The World Health Organization calculates femicide rate based on deaths caused from interpersonal violence within the whole female population.
3,915 women and girls were murdered last year in South Africa.
That’s an average of 10 women murdered every single day of 2018. This means that there are 15.2 murders for every 100,000 adult women in South Africa and it’s five times more than the global average of 2.6. This ranks South Africa fourth out of 183 countries with the highest femicide rates in the world.
By these calculations, a woman is murdered every three hours in this country.
It is even more distressing that this horrible incident is one of many in the femicide epidemic sweeping the country; where women are ripped from their communities in such a violent way. South Africa is already notorious for several high-profile cases that have caused huge levels of outrage over the past few years, but the reaction to Nene’s death over the past week has hit like a tsunami.
When is enough, enough?
We need to stop writing headlines and telling stories in a passive voice. Women aren’t just murdered, they are being killed by men.
I don’t want to bring daughters into this world knowing that we are not even safe at the post office anymore. Uyinene is just one of the many names. I didn’t know I could be so angry and filled with such paralytic sadness, and I don’t know what to say to my sisters who are weeping – all of us living in a permanent state of underlying fear, thinking, “am I next?“
Rest in peace, beautiful Nene. I wish I had the power to bring you back. I do, however, have a voice and you better believe I am not done speaking out.