She was 19 years old and full of life. A first year film and media studies student at the University of Cape Town, Uyinene Mrwetyana's family described her as someone who "only knew love".

Then, on August 24, 2019, her light was snuffed out — allegedly by a 42-year-old Post Office worker who raped and bludgeoned her to death. Her body was dumped in Khayelitsha.

Her death sparked a movement. Around the country, women took to the streets asking, "Am I Next?" Social media lit up. South Africa's women demanded answers.

This is the story of Uyinene Mrwetyana — the woman who ignited the movement against gender-based violence in South Africa.

*WARNING | This project contains potentially triggering content that deals with sexual violence.

Uyinene – God is truth

By Mpho Raborife

The name Uyinene, loosely translated means God/He is truth.

On April 20, 2000, an East London family of three welcomed the arrival of a new family member when Nomangwane Mrwetyana gave birth to a baby girl, who was named Uyinene.

Mrwetyana's pregnancy had been a difficult one. Doctors told her and her civil engineer husband Mabhele Mrwetyana that there was a high risk their baby girl would be paralysed once born and it would be best to consider terminating the pregnancy.

But the devout Christian family stuck to their guns, despite the advice, and prayed that if it was God's will, their baby girl would arrive healthy and safe.

"All this was strangely happening while you had no name yet. We petitioned with God, I fasted, pleading for God's healing in your life," her father said.

"When the medication had subsided and the risk rate had significantly dropped, the Lord reaffirmed that Uyinene, yena ongumalusi olungileyo (He is true, he who is our saviour and who is good). That is how your name was birthed."

This was the story the family of University of Cape Town (UCT) student Uyinene Mrwetyana told a hall full of people on September 7, 2019. Mabhele and the rest of the family were there to attend the funeral of their daughter 19 years later.

Her coffin was less than a metre away from them and well within eyeshot.

But they mostly kept their gaze low as speaker after speaker spoke glowingly about their ray of sunshine, whose light had been put out before her time.

When it was her older brother Esona's turn to speak, he told the room full of mourners that one of the last things the siblings had discussed was their mother's birthday.

Cape Town holiday

Uyinene had wanted her family to have a full Cape Town experience – wine tasting and hiking, with quality time over shared "healthy" family meals.

But their plans were cut short when she went missing and no one could reach her on her cellphone or find her in her university residence room.

According to those who were close to her, the first-year film and media studies student had a deep love for fashion, clothes and keeping up with trends.

On Saturday, August 24, she decided to run a few errands, which included checking if a package from her favourite online clothing store had arrived at the Clareinch post office.

A 42-year-old Post Office employee assisted her and told her that he couldn't access the system to check on the package because the power was down.

According to her uncle Vuyani Mrwetyana, the man asked for her contact details and offered to get in touch with her when the power was back up again, so that she could collect the parcel.

Upon her return, possibly unaware that the rest of the building was deserted because it was after operating hours, she found herself trapped inside the building with the male stranger.

"It was out of character for her just to vanish into thin air, for her not to contact her friends, colleagues or brother. And it was in fact her brother who said: 'No, it cannot be'. So, he began the investigation in his own ways. It is Esona, in fact, who took the matter to the nearest police station to say: ‘No look, this is definitely out of character. My sister is very consistent in all her activities,'" her uncle said.

After 48 hours passed without any sign of Uyinene, her parents flew to Cape Town to join their son's search for her.

"I am the mother of the child who was last seen in this post office. Now, could the person who had actually been serving her identify himself?"

Bold mother

But they were sent from pillar to post.

"The mother, in particular, was very bold enough to say: ‘Hubby, let's go to the post office’. For me that was the beginning of the proper investigation. She made a bold statement to announce herself. Fortunately, it was quiet in the post office at that time.

"She announced that ‘I am the mother of the child who was last seen in this post office. Now, could the person who had actually been serving her identify himself?'"

The uncle said the man put his hand up and told Uyinene's parents that he was the person who had served their daughter.

"He raised his arm to say: 'Yes I'm the last person to serve her.' And then she began to make inquiries. But colleagues advised them to use the manager's office and they had this kind of, you know, serious conversation about this. Yes, the so-called perpetrator admitted that, in fact, he had served her, he had invited her [to come back later]."

He said shortly after speaking to the man, they went to the police station, which is next door to the post office, to inform the police of the development.

On the same day, August 26, a body had been recovered in Khayelitsha. Her family was called in to compare DNA samples and it was confirmed that the body was indeed Uyinene's.

High-level task team arrest

Five days later, the 42-year-old man was arrested following a high-level task team investigation authorised by Police Minister Bheki Cele with the help of the family's private investigator.

Shortly after his arrest, it emerged in court that he confessed that he lured Uyinene to the building, locking her in and raping her. The court heard that he also told police that she put up such a fight that he had to use the scale to hit her over her head.

It would also be revealed later by police minister Bheki Cele that the man allegedly tried to get rid of any evidence by cleaning the scene and attempting to burn her body before burying it in a shallow grave in Khayelitsha – 29 kilometres away from the post office.

He was charged with murder, rape and defeating the ends of justice and is expected to return to court on November 5.

News of Uyinene's disappearance had gone viral within hours of her going missing with posts circulated on social media, on the University of Cape Town campus as well as in public spaces around Cape Town.

Even UCT's vice-chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, had changed her Twitter profile picture to a picture of the student and changed her @FabAcademic handle to @BringNeneHome.

When it was confirmed that she was no longer missing and the news of the post office employee's arrest and confession spread, there was a shift that could be felt across the country, especially among women, who felt that enough was enough.

"If a woman can't even go to the post office then where are they safe?" was the question on the minds of many people.

This collective feeling of fear, anger, paranoia and frustration swelled into mass protests across major cities and campuses in which answers were demanded from the highest office in the land on what would be done to ensure that femicide was brought to an end.

"We are reviewing laws on sexual offenses to prioritise the needs of survivors. We are going to overhaul the national register of sexual offenders. It will list all the men who are convicted of violence against women and children."
- President Cyril Ramaphosa

Dark period for South Africa

Speaking a day after the 42-year-old made his first appearance in court for Uyinene's murder and rape, President Cyril Ramaphosa said South Africa was experiencing a "very dark" period.

"The assaults, rapes and murders of South African women are a stain on our national conscience," Ramaphosa said.

"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," Ramaphosa said. 

He promised that swift action would be taken to make sure that, among others, sexual offence cases which were closed or not properly investigated in the past, would be reviewed.

This was in part because it had been revealed that Uyinene’s attacker had a previous criminal record and attempted rape charge against him which was later withdrawn.

In addition, harsher sentences would be imposed on the perpetrators of violence against women, Ramaphosa said. 

"We are reviewing laws on sexual offenses to prioritise the needs of survivors. We are going to overhaul the national register of sexual offenders. It will list all the men who are convicted of violence against women and children," Ramaphosa said.

He said he would also ask that Parliament debate making the list public.

SA's latest murder statistics

The South African Police Service recently released a breakdown of murder victims by age group and sex.

Their latest data shows that 20 336 people were murdered in 2017/18. The majority of the murder victims were adult men, accounting for 16 421 deaths. This is equal to one murder every 30 minutes.

In the same period, 2 930 adult women were murdered – equating to one every three hours.

Gender activist and researcher Lisa Vetten said that the conversation around gender-based violence needed to be narrowed down to the actual crimes committed, such as murder specifically, instead of using an umbrella term which detracted from the severity of the act.

She said in the past decade, the murder of women had been "bouncing up and down" within a small range and had dropped by 5% in 2018. However, she said this was not the case for murder of men, which had been increasing year-on-year since 2011.

"What's actually wrong with our conversation as a country right now is that we don't really talk about why murder happens in South Africa. The question you want to ask is: 'Why for a decade did it (murder) go down? What changed in the country for it to go up?'"

She said for society to understand why murder was so rampant in South Africa, people would have to have to accept that they needed to look beyond the fact that relationships between men and women are unequal and that it was government which needed to fix things.

"You have to look at what else is going on in the country, what else is driving homicide. You need to look at the politics and, I would say, the economy because if you look historically at the kinds of outcries over the last 100 years around rape or murder of women and children, it tends to coincide with very difficult political and economic periods.

"I'd say we're in one right now. And so, what can happen under those circumstances is that particular cases capture public imagination and they almost act as a focus, for the broader anxiety. They become a way in which people can challenge their concerns about what's happening politically and economically around one particular kind of case."

When trying to then explain the rampant murder rates in South Africa, people would need to look at a variety of factors before coming to a conclusion around the cause, she said.

"If we could reduce it to one thing like the government, or patriarchy, that would be wonderful because we would know that if we just fix that, then the problem would go away. But it's much more complicated than that… it's a dynamic phenomenon. It's not something that stays the same or is caused by the same things."

Touching on the impact Uyinene's death, in particular, had had on South African society, Vetten said one of the key factors that triggered the anger and anxiety was the fact that it had occurred in an ordinary and public setting.

Uyinene's tender age also played a significant factor, as she had just entered "young adulthood" as a 19-year-old for only four months.


Uyinene’s face has become the poster image of the #AmINext movement across the country and many women, young and old have chanted her name in the streets as they call for the State and for South African men to do better.

She has become the symbol of a renewed effort to prioritise the safety and well-being of women and children in South Africa.

In her honour, her name will also be remembered through a UCT scholarship called the Uyinene Mrwetyana Scholarship for Women in the Humanities, said Phakeng.

"Each time the scholarship is awarded, it will be a cautious reminder of the tragic circumstances under which Uyinene's life was taken and spur the scholarship recipient on, to keep the flame of her legacy shining brightly. Each time Uyinene's name is mentioned in this way, she will be alive to us as we work together towards ending the scourge of gender-based violence. We do not want to forget who she was."

She would also be remembered through a gender-based violence foundation, which is to be established by her family.

"The one thing I will hold onto, is that till your very last breath you were fighting. And I'm sorry that I wasn't there to fight for you. I'm so proud of you. Your fight is now our fight," her brother and fellow UCT student Esona promised, while struggling to fight back tears.

Nomangwane promised to always remember the dreams that her daughter had for herself and for their family.

"You promised me a makeover. Who will play that role for me? We had plans for a wine-tasting outing because you said I was boring. I will still go my angel, as I promised you.

"Oh sana lwam (Oh my child)…  I am sorry that I warned you about all other places but not the post office. I am sorry I was not there to protect you and fight for you my girl.

"I promise to take the baton and continue to fight gender-based violence," she said to her daughter.