As their first Christmas without her looms, Uyinene’s mom opens up about her family’s unbearable loss
WE don’t want her to be known as that victim at the post office – there’s so much more to her than that.”
These are the words of Nomangwane Mrwetyana, the grieving mother of the young woman who became the unwitting face of the scourge of genderbased violence in South Africa.
But to Nomangwane and her family, Uyinene wasn’t the raped and slain University of Cape Town student whose brutal death in August triggered nationwide protests and made headlines around the world.
To them she was Nene, Uyi Uyi – the sparkling girl who could light up a room with her megawatt smile.
Now her mom, dad Mabhele, a civil engineer, and brother Esona (21) are preparing for their first Christmas without their little girl and baby sister.
“You feel the void in so many ways,” Nomangwane says. “Life will never be the same without her.”
The family will travel to their rural home in Centane in the Eastern Cape as they do every festive season to spend time with loved ones. But they’re also planning to go on a retreat for a few days, just the three of them.
“We want to be in a space where we aren’t connected to the outside world,” Nomangwane says. “A place where we’re able to process everything and rethink ourlives.”
THERE’S a lot to process – not least the graphic detail that emerged of how their beloved Uyi Uyi spent her last hours.
In a chilling admission to the Western Cape high court, murderer Luyanda Botha told how he had pounced on Uyinene when she came to the Clareinch Post Office in Claremont, Cape Town, to collect her online shopping delivery.
“When the deceased searched her bag to pay the requisite customs fees, I started making sexual advances towards her,” he said.
“The deceased didn’t respond and looked scared. I grabbed her by the waist and forcibly pulled her closer to me.”
He then describes in graphic detail how he raped her, how she then fought him and ran towards the door. But he caught up with her and dragged her towards the post office safe where he bludgeoned her to death with a 2kg scale.
He then wrapped her body in plastic, bundled it into his car and drove to Khayelitsha where he burnt the body and buried it in a shallow grave.
Botha was handed three life sentences and the family is satisfied with the sentence.
“We were pleased by how swiftly the case was handled,” Nomangwane says.
“In a way, it assisted us to try to move forward. But nothing will ever bring my daughter back.”
Nomangwane, who meets us at her home in Makhanda where she’s student affairs director at Rhodes University, recalls the last time she spoke to Uyinene.
“She said when I come to Cape Town on Monday I must please bring her phone charger.”
The family was planning a trip to Cape Town to coincide with Nomangwane’s birthday on 26 August. Shortly after that phone call the news came: Uyinene was missing – and the celebratory trip they’d been planning turned into a frantic journey of panic and horror.
The days Uyinene was missing were unbearable, Nomangwane says. “There were a lot of stories doing the rounds and we had so much fear. Yes, you hope she’s still alive – but you also wonder: if she’s still alive, what is she going through?”
The bottom fell out of their world when they heard Uyinene’s body had been positively identified.
“Her dad was closest to her and he was under a lot of strain – the frustration of a father, that this happened to your daughter at the hands of another man and you wish you could’ve done something . . .”
Esona, who’s also a student at UCT, adored his little sister and took her death very hard. There were times she had to step in when she could see he wasn’t coping, Nomangwane says, and the family is trying to take it one day at a time.
“We were robbed of saying goodbye,” she adds. “Sometimes it feels like it would’ve been better if she’d been sick – at least we might have somehow seen it coming.”
THE months following her death have been a rollercoaster of emotion. “One day you wake up and you’re sad because you’re missing her, the next you’re angry towards the whole world, including the perpetrator. Then there are days you feel helpless – you wish you could’ve done something as a parent, you wish you could’ve been there,” she says.
Nomangwane can’t bring herself to call Uyinene’s murderer by name because “I don’t think he deserves to be named. He’s a monster”.
Botha was given the opportunity to say something to the family and he wrote a letter of apology to be delivered via his lawyer.“We aren’t interested in his apology,” Nomangwane says.
“It’s difficult to say if I’ll ever forgive him.”
She’ll never look at a post office in the same way again. To her, it’ll always be the place where her child’s life was snuffed out. “It was supposed to be a safe place but it’s not a place where I want to go now.”
Uyinene had so much going for her, her mom says, so many dreams for the future. She wanted to travel the world but the deal was she must finish her film and media studies first.
Adventurous and daring, Uyinene persuaded her dad to go bungee jumping with her and was planning to go skydiving with her father next.
Uyi was assertive, caring, friendly and outspoken, her mom says. She loved fashion, hated injustice and was a born leader.
“But more than anything she was deeply caring and very respectful.”
She says the family is leaning on their spirituality and family and friends to get through each day.
“This is all new to me, I don’t know what the future holds. One message I’ve been getting is that it gets better – but this is a pain we have to live with for the rest of our lives.”
The family has started the Uyinene Mrwetyana Foundation which will have a two-pronged purpose, Nomangwane says.
It will commemorate her life and not allow her end to define her, and it will continue the fight against gender-based violence.
“Something is wrong with the family unit,” Nomangwane says. “Before men go out into the world they are boy children, members of a home. Where did things go so wrong that the boy child becomes a monster? It speaks to the way he’s socialised.
“So we’re hoping to be able to do something about the huge societal problem.”
If they can make some small difference in Uyi Uyi’s name, her death won’t have been in vain, her mother says.
But right now, it’s small comfort to a family grappling with grief.
“Sometimes the pain is just too much to bear.”