Rape and Murder of South African University Student Sparks Social Media Campaign

The murder and rape of a University of Cape Town student has led to a national cry to end violence against women in South Africa.

Uyinene Mrwetyana, 19, was reported missing after she was last seen in Claremont, Cape Town, sometime last week. Mrwetyana, a freshman at the University of Cape Town, was reportedly trying to pick up a package on August 24 after 2 p.m. when she was told the power was out and to return later, according to TimesLIVE.

When she returned to the post office, a 42-year-old unidentified man who works at the Clareinch post office invited her into the post office, but reportedly locked her inside, where he raped and killed her. Prosecutors told the news outlet that the man confessed to the film and media student’s death and revealed to authorities where he hid the body. He was arrested and charged with rape, murder, and “defeating the ends of justice,” prosecutor Nomnikelo Konisi told the courtroom.

Authorities told the news outlet an unidentified body was found in Khayelitsha on August 31 and DNA tests are being done to identify the body. The unidentified postal worker is currently in jail without bail and will appear in court on November 5.

Following her death, the Claremont post office reportedly closed, with a sign that read the office was “closed due to unforeseen circumstances,” TimesLIVE reported. Local residents have placed flowers outside of the office to mourn the death of Mrwetyana.

Veronica Smith works at a store across the road from the post office and said police contacted her to find out if she saw Mrwetyana walk into the post office.

“I couldn’t help them,” Smith told TimesLIVE. “I work Monday to Friday. Our children are killed. I thought there would have been a mass protest already. If this was in the township, the community would be here fighting tooth and nail for it be shut down.”

Since the 19-year-old student’s death, students at different universities in South Africa have been speaking out regarding violence against women. At the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), students held a vigil to honor Mrwetyana and canceled classes for the day to protest.

“Students at the institution are planning to stop classes for today. They say business cannot continue as usual in the aftermath of the tragic rape and murder of #UyineneMrwetyana,” a tweet, along with a video of students chanting and singing obtained by Eyewitness News read.

Some have suggested a national shutdown to protest femicide, or “the international intentional killing of females (women or girls) because they are females,” according to South Africa’s statistical agency, Stats SA. A petition has been launched calling for the death penalty to be reinstated in South Africa.

“Crimes against women in South Africa has become an uncontrollable, vicious cycle where women and children are sexually assaulted and murdered with little to no justice for the ones that are left behind to pick up the pieces,” the petition read.

The South African Police Service data found that 2,930 adult women and 294 girls were murdered between 2017 and2018. The South African Human Rights Commission’s website also found that femicide increased 117% in South Africa between 2015 and 2016.

On Twitter, the hashtag #AmINext went viral with women wondering if they will be the next victim killed in South Africa.

“I saw a post that said “if you had my live location would you be worried that I was at the post office?“ That hit. #AmINext?” one Twitter user wrote.

“Arriving home safe it is an underrated blessing #AmINext,” another Twitter user wrote. In late August, South Africa boxing champion Leighandre “Baby Lee” Jegels was also killed by her estranged boyfriend, a police officer, News 24 reported. Jegels and her mother were on their way to a boxing gym in Mdantsane on August 31, when they were confronted by Jegels’s ex-boyfriend, Bulelani Manyakama, according to SowetanLIVE. Manyakama reportedly fled the scene after shooting Jegels and her mother. While leaving the scene, he was involved in a car accident and taken to a local hospital, where he was treated for serious head injuries. He died on September 2.

"The tactical response team member who was in hospital after shooting his boxer girlfriend and his girlfriend's mother, has been certified dead [on September 2] at an East London hospital,” Independent Police Investigative Directorate spokesperson Sontaga Seisa told the news station. “The same suspect was supposed to appear before court for the same alleged offenses."

President Cyril Ramaphosa wrote in a statement sending his “deepest condolences” to Mrwetyana’s and Jegels’ families. He also noted that the body of a 14-year-old girl was found in a backyard in Cape Town on September 2, “adding to a grim body count of murdered women and girls across the country.”

“This is a very dark period for us as a country. The assaults, rapes and murders of South African women are a stain on our national conscience.” Ramaphosa said in a statement. “We have just commemorated Women’s Month. Sixty three years after the women of 1956 marched for the right to live in freedom, women in this country live in fear — not of the apartheid police but of their brothers, sons, fathers and uncles. We should all hang our heads in shame.”

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.