The death of UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana was quite shocking in how mundane a task she was carrying out when she became the latest victim of an entitled, violent male – collecting a parcel at the post office.
What is even more chilling is how it has become so normal for our society’s women to only exist at the mercy of men.
The alleged killer had plans to burn the young woman’s body after killing her. It would have been Karabo Mokoena all over again.
Not that it makes the crime less gruesome because the killer didn’t carry out the last part of his evil plan. It doesn’t. It just shows that this is a horror movie that we’ve seen play itself out before and, sadly, one that is on endless repeat.
In 1967, psychologists described a condition called learned helplessness as “…a state that occurs after a person has experienced a stressful situation repeatedly. They come to believe that they are unable to control or change the situation, so they do not try – even when opportunities for change become available”.
This is the state which our society has reached when it comes to violence against women. Opportunities to change the situation for the better always present themselves with each passing gruesome incident, but it would appear those tasked with effecting the change are unable to do so, or have given up trying.
Mrwetyana’s alleged killer had a violent past. He was a convicted hijacker. He had a withdrawn case of sexual harassment and another pending rape charge against him.
A vetting process at the post office had picked up his criminal record, yet nothing was done by his employers. The most distressing thing is that while this could have spared this particular young woman’s life, it would not have changed the killer’s entitlement to his patriarchal power over women. In all probability, he would have struck at a different place and time.
The most obvious thing that can and must be done is taking immediate action against those who did not act by removing the killer from working with the public. In much the same way that teachers who are sexual offenders go into a sex offenders register, there needs to be one that is established immediately for all those working with the public.
The fundamental changes that are needed are the ones that will stop gender-based violence from happening, not ones that react to it after another gruesome incident.
There is no force more powerful than education in effecting long-term change in the modern world. Young minds must be shaped from the minute they enter the education system to know and understand that violence – in all its forms – solves nothing.
It has become quite clear that the family structure and the church are not succeeding at effecting moral change by themselves.
Government must provide the leadership by effecting changes to the curriculum to ensure young boys are taught that they have no naturally endowed entitlement to women’s bodies.
The most immediate changes that can be made to the criminal justice system must continue to be made.
This cannot be done overnight because it requires unlearning what society has ingrained in men: that they own women. They don’t!