Uyinene Mrwetyana – South Africa’s #IamNext Movement

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One Saturday afternoon in August, a 19 year old student from the University of Capetown in South Africa went to a nearby post office. The man working at the front desk told her that the credit card machine wasn’t working, so she should come back in a few hours and it would be fixed. So, a few hours later, she returned to the post office. When she walked in, the door was locked behind her and she was taken into the supply closet. Three days later, the police department declared her missing. After about a week had gone by, the post-office worker, the main suspect for the case, confessed to beating, raping, and killing her. This young woman’s name was Uyinene Mrwetyana. 

After hearing the man’s confession, the UCT community and Mrwetyana’s family and friends were sent into a state of pure shock. When Mretwyana had gone missing, her community took action through social media to try to find her, even getting people invested across the globe. By the time the truth came out, the 19 year old’s case had already reached such a level of publicity that it essentially sparked the #AmINext movement, which had already been on the rise in South Africa. Her mother heartbreakingly said “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,” and vowed to fight gender-based violence in the name of her daughter. In addition to Mrwetyana’s loved ones and close-knit community, thousands took to the streets and marched to the South African Parliament on Thursday, September 5th, demanding a more definitive and urgent response to the long-persisting violence against women, calling on President Cyril Ramaphosa to declare this a national emergency.

Even though gender-based violence in South Africa is just now getting recognized as the national crisis that it is, it has been one of the leading countries in femicide (female homicide) for decades. According to the World Health Organization, South Africa ranks fourth out of 183 countries in femicide rates, with a woman being murdered every three hours. In addition, for every 100,000 people in South Africa, 95.9 are raped, whereas the United States has 27.3 victims per 100,000. Rape has become so common that it rarely makes the news, and if it does, it’s buried deep inside local newspapers. Not only do these crimes go unnoticed, but they tragically go unpunished as well. A study done in 2013 found that just 6% of reported rapes and sexual assaults go convicted in South Africa. However, in the United States, a mere 0.7% of reported rapes end in a felony conviction. 

Despite the differences in the concrete statistics on gender-based violence and sexual assault, the recent emergence of the #AmINext movement in South Africa is incredibly reminiscent of America’s #Metoo movement. Even the titles or mantras of both movements speak to the sheer number of victims and the fear that so many people are quietly living in. They both mobilized initially through social media, calling for substantial change to the system, both political and social. They not only call for a concrete change to their respective “systems”, but they also call for a shift in attitude towards sexual assault and gender-based violence, combatting the previously dismissive and silencing cultures in both countries.