I’m deepIy worried. I feel a sadness so vast that it almost drowned me the other day. Uyinene Mrwetyana is dead. Another flame violently put out by an unforgiving and unrelenting killer.

If you haven’t yet heard the name, I understand. Not all of us have social media accounts, or are online at the same time (and read the same things). But allow me a chance to tell you a bit about her story.

A 42-year-old man raped and murdered her. She was 19. She was studying at UCT.  He killed her at a Post Office. She’s not the only one that a man has done this (and worse) to. And she won’t be the last.

Basically, if you’re a woman you have to worry about being raped by possibly any man, anywhere, at any time. Even a police station, at this rate.

You walk into a taxi rank at night, you worry. You’re alone in a taxi with the taxi driver, you worry. An Uber picks you up alone and drunk after a night of partying, you worry.

There are many things wrong with this picture, so let’s unpack it.

There are many things I love about South Africa. But this picture is one of the things I hate about our country. I hate rape. I hate murder. I hate sexual assault, harassment or any other form of sexual wrongdoing. And I hate conflict. But what I probably hate the most is when people are in denial about these things even though it stares us all right in the face. Our country is a dangerous place for women. And if I sound crazy, if I sound like an alarmist, we only need to look at the latest headlines to get a clue.

A story my sister recently told me is also a good example of this. She told me that one of the men I grew up in front of, a man who lived a few houses down the street from mine, smashed his wife’s head with a rock.

According to my sister, he came home one day raging about how his wife was cheating on him with their plumber. He didn’t want to hear any explanation she had. He just wanted to pummel her into the ground. He chased her into the street, tripped her, and when she fell, he started kicking her repeatedly. My sister says he was so angry that no one dared intervene. He then proceeded to pick up a rock and drop it on her head.

I honestly don’t know how his wife survived. I really have no idea.

And guess what? That man is still walking the streets, free. He was apparently arrested and appeared in court, but the case never went anywhere. She didn’t testify against him. And, in our law, you can’t force a wife to testify against her husband (or the other way around), so the case didn’t go anywhere. She asked my sister to never get involved with the case, so my sister couldn’t help with the case either.

And there you have it, yet another man harmed a woman, and, to make matters worse, walked free after doing so. This story is not even unique at this point. It’s a remix of other scenes that have played out across South Africa, except this one doesn’t involve rape and murder. What all of them usually have in common is that there’s a man hurting a woman, and the people who know about it don’t do or say anything.

Uyinene is just the latest example.

As a man, I don’t even want to pretend that I fully understand what she went through. I will never fully understand what goes through any woman’s mind while she’s being raped or sexually assaulted, or when she has to pick up the pieces afterwards. I cannot imagine the strength it takes for a woman then to go report the crime to the police.

It seems like many across South Africa are only now beginning to appreciate the struggle. Uyinene’s case seems to have woken up a country that was sleepwalking through the trauma that many women face. Finally, it seems, people are ready to start talking about what their roles may be in improving things.

I’ve seen some men acknowledge on social media that in order for things to change, men need to stop each other, to force each other to change the way we look at women. They were basically saying that if a man calls women bitches or sluts, other men around him have to stop him and tell him to look at women in a more respectful way.

The worry I have, though, is that I’ve only seen people say those things and express their anger on social media. I don’t know whether their anger is real or not or if they’re just jumping on the bandwagon without really intending to do anything to effect change. We do, after all, probably have men who post about being against hurting or disrespecting women, but when they get off social media, they still hurt their wives or girlfriends. I worry that we have a bit of a tendency, in this social media era, to support things on social media without fully understanding or caring about them, and without truly wanting to take action.

I remember one other case recently that made people very angry and had them not only posting but taking to the streets as well and protesting. I’m talking about Cheryl Zondi and the Timothy Omotoso trial. I remember Timothy’s lawyer aggressively questioning her on why she claimed to have been raped but took years to report it to police. Many people didn’t believe her story, calling her all sorts of names on social media and basically saying she caused herself to be raped. But I also remember many other people coming to her defence.

Now I ask myself: What happened to all that social media hype that surrounded the Omotoso case? Do people still care about it or have they just swiftly moved along to the latest item in the news – Uyinene’s case?

I really do hope that Uyinene’s story will be the spark that ignites a fire – real change. I hope things won’t go back to what they were.


Tell us: what can we do in our daily lives to stop men abusing women?

This blog also forms part of our Rights 2.0 – Bridging Divides project. Find out more here.