Universities must be catalysts for positive change in South Africa against the backdrop of violence against women.
In a statement, Universities South Africa (USAf), together with all its member institutions, expressed it distress by news of the gruesome death of Uyinene Mrwetyana, a student at the University of Cape Town (UCT), one of its member universities.
However, USAf refuses to respond by just “condemning” this act – deserving as it might be of the harshest form of contempt, it said in the statement.
“If we want our society to change for the better, we need to respond differently to the decay that we’re increasingly witnessing in our society,” said Professor Ahmed Bawa, CEO at USAf.
“Universities need to lead South Africa towards that change. It is not enough for our institutions of higher learning to simply recognise the prevalence of gender-based violence. They have to act to change the culture that generates such violence against women and children.”
“This tragedy is a clarion call for all men in our society to take a stand and be counted,” Bawa said.
“As the university community, we must seriously raise the bar in performing our role as the conscience of society. Unless we act collectively and as a matter of urgency, our country will continue to sink into an abyss – out of which we may never escape.
“We implore our universities to stand up and become catalysts for positive change in our beloved country. The scourge of violence and lawlessness in South Africa is rearing its head in many forms which warrant serious contemplation by all sectors of our society.”
UCT declared Wednesday a day of mourning and activism against gender based violence, which will involve a picket at parliament and a memorial service for Mrwetyana, while classes are suspended for the day.
“There is no doubt that this tragic event has devastated us as a community and has left us bereaved and angry. Many staff and students have expressed their sadness and have gathered in separate vigils, prayer circles and small groups across campus,” UCT vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng said in a circular to UCT students and staff posted on the university’s website.
“It is important that as a community we recognise this moment for what it is. A devastating incident of gender based violence which is utterly unacceptable, shocking, criminal and should never, ever occur in our community or in our society.
“Sadly, it is a fact that sexual and gender based violence is rampant and our Nene is just one of a long list of women and vulnerable and marginalised people who are brutalised daily. It is for this reason that we have initiated a gender based violence campaign that says #JustNo to sexual and gender based violence.”
The South African Local Government Association (SALGA) National Women’s Commission also expressed its shock and condemnation.
“This unfortunate and senseless killing of Uyinene confirms that the fight against gender inequalities and for respect for women rights is still a far-fetched dream in South Africa. Until the day women can walk freely in our streets and even jog in the evening without having to watch their back in fear of being kidnapped and raped, the freedom we claim to have then is meaningless,” a statement from SALGA reads.
The commission said men must lead the change in society, at home and the workplace.
Meanwhile, the organisation Activate Change Drivers expressed its support for the call for gender-based violence to be declared a national state of emergency.
“South Africa is at war with itself and women of all ages bear the brunt of our collective anger and rage,” reads a statement from the organisation.
“We call on leaders and all who call South Africa home to declare femicide a crime against society. Our country’s future is in the hands of diverse women whose lives are at risk every day. Protecting them is protecting our future. The struggle against femicide is not a woman’s issue, it is an issue affecting us all.”
“Just as we defeated apartheid we must defeat the anger and rage which threatens the social fabric of South Africa. Activate Change Drivers sends condolences to the family and friends of Uyinene Mrwetyana, Jesse Hess and the thousands of victims of femicide. Let their murders not be in vain.”