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A girl walks to school in South Africa.
Themba Hadebe/AP
Girls & Women

The Shocking Case of Uyinene Mrwetyana Highlights South Africa's Gender-Based Violence


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Gender-based violence (GBV) remains one of South Africa’s biggest social ills despite awareness campaigns by gender activists and government efforts that include declaring GBV a national crisis. You can join us here to take action in support of UN Global Goal 5 for gender equality, including ending all forms of violence against women and girls.

News that a 19-year-old first year student, Uyinene Mrwetyana, went missing in Cape Town last week has shocked and angered South Africans. 

Yet again, it seemed, a young woman had disappeared into thin air — and it’s yet another case that exposes how serious a concern gender-based violence is in the country.

The University of Cape Town film student was last seen leaving Roscommon House, the student residence where she lived, on Aug. 24.

People close to her raised alarm on social media soon after her disappearance, while her family hired three private investigators to help the state police investigating her disappearance.

The search for her ended on Friday when a body that was discovered in Khayelitsha was reportedly confirmed to be that of Mrwetyana’s, following a DNA test and autopsy.

On Monday morning, a man was arrested in connection with her disappearance of appeared in the Wynberg Magistrate's Court in Cape Town. He was later reportedly charged with the rape and murder of Mrwetyana.

According to reports, Mrwetyana left her student residence and went to the post office on Saturday to collect a parcel but she was told it could not be traced as a result of a power failure. 

She was told to return later, which she did. This is when the man is reported to have attacked her. 

The man will be back in court on Nov. 5. In the meantime, South Africa yet again finds itself grappling with gender-based violence (GBV). 

President Cyril Ramaphosa said in April that GBV is a “national crisis”, when speaking at the signing of the Gender-Based Violence Declaration. 

The declaration sets out a plan of action on how the country will launched a more focussed effort to tackle GBV. It is one of the outcomes of the two-day Summit Against Gender-Based Violence and Femicide that was held in November 2019 after #TotalShutDown protests that were held across the country in August to demand action against GBV.

Ramaphosa noted at the signing of the Gender-Based Violence Declaration that: “The most recent data from the World Health Organisation shows that South Africa’s femicide rate was 12.1 per 100,000 in 2016.”

Ramaphosa said this was almost five times higher than the global average of 2.6 per 100,000.

Related Stories Nov. 1, 2018 Women Just Silently Stood in Protest During President’s Speech at South Africa’s First Gender Violence Summit

Mrwetyana’s disappearance served as a reminder that South Africa still has a lot of work that needs to be done in order for girls, women, and gender non-binary citizens to be protected from justice.

The fact that her disappearance happened during the Women’s Month of August, when the country commemorates the anti-apartheid march to the Union Building by more than 20,000 women, added salt to the wound.

It was revealed this month that one of South Africa’s most prominent business women and anti-apartheid struggle hero, Dr. Thandi Ndlovu, was also a victim and survivor of GBV. Ndlovu died in a car accident on the same day that Mrwetyana was last seen alive.

News of the violence that plagued Ndlovu’s marriage were revealed by her sister, Granny, at Ndlovu’s memorial service on Wednesday last week

Granny told mourners that Ndlovu “faced all manner of abuse in [her] marriage. It was emotional, verbal, physical, and shrouded in silence.”

Related Stories April 1, 2019 South Africa Just Signed a Declaration to End ‘National Crisis’ of Gender-Based Violence

Women's Month represents a focused month of activism against gender-based violence — and yet the numbers of violent attacks this month show that more work is needed. 

The magnitude of the crisis was also highlighted by the murder of boxing and karate champion, Leighandre "Baby Lee" Jegels, who was shot and killed by her police officer boyfriend on Aug. 30 in East London, in the Eastern Cape. 

Jegels’ mother was also attacked, and remains in a critical condition. Jegels is alleged to have had a protection order against her boyfriend, who also shot himself and died in hospital.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, it was reported that a Port Elizabeth medical doctor had been shot by her husband, who is also a doctor, in an attack that happened in front of their children. A case of attempted murder has been opened against the husband.

Poet and activist Koleka Putuma tweeted the account of the presidency, urging the presidency to declare GBV a state of emergency.

 “The war against women and girls in South Africa is a STATE OF EMERGENCY!” she said.