IN CHAPEL THIS MORNING
The following address by Grade 12 student, Alex Magero, was delivered in chapel this morning:
“To be quite frank with you all here today, this was probably one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to prepare to say. Never has an event made me feel so disgusted, horrified and emotional as the events that have recently occurred in this country. From a position of naiveté, it is always so much easier to think of these events as terrible things that happen to other people but never you. But as a student, as a young black female about to enter university, as a sister, as a daughter, as a friend, my heart breaks for the family and loved ones of Uyinene Mrwetyana, all those before her and all those who I know will come after her.
To explain what happened to Uyinene is to recite details that were explained in a court room, presented as evidence to a judge and a jury and placed in the hands of the law. But they will never match what truly happened nor will they console the pain felt by her parents, her friends, her siblings. To say that Uyinene Mrwetyana was a student at the University of Cape Town who was tortured, raped and murdered before her body was dumped in the township of Khayelitsha says nothing of the hopelessness and desperation that she must have felt. It says nothing of the sickening actions of a forty something year old man who saw a young girl coming to pick up a package from the post office and took advantage of her in broad daylight. I cannot put into words what it must have felt like to come to the realization that you are about to die. She was nineteen years old.
Today, Uyinene is recognized as an icon. Her murder highlighted the broader national problem of gender based violence in South Africa. However, not all of the responses to Uyinene’s murder have been positive. As I am sure many of you are aware, the murder has resulted in increased conversation surrounding the #MenAreTrash Movement. To ensure that we are all on the same point of understanding, there are a few things that we all need to understand about this movement.
Firstly, one should note that the lack of specification is intentional. If we wanted to say that every single man that walks the earth is trash then the hashtag would have been ALL men are trash. But it is not. The hashtag is designed to prevent any man from denying responsibility for the trashiness women are forced to experience every day. Whilst it is true that not every single man rapes or is complicit in the disempowerment of women, they all benefit from a system which has allowed them to. The hashtag highlights the fact that it is not that men did not know when their actions were harmful but rather that society has taught them that the consequences of their actions do not matter.
A study done by Rachel Jwekes’ in the Eastern Cape showed that a quarter of men had committed rape at some point in their life. How is this a statistic that we can bear to live with? In abusive power systems, the mark is not so clear as just criminal and victim. There are also those who do not commit crimes themselves but benefit from the crimes of others. Such is the issue in jumping to “But my dad would never…” or “My boyfriend is too good to…”. The movement isn’t about them. The movement is about the women who didn’t cross paths with your non-violent dad or your loving boyfriend. The movement is for the women like Uyinene whose bodies are lying in ditches, women who cover up bruises from their children, women who won’t go anywhere at night without a male companion, women who are told that they were asking to be raped when wearing a skirt. Everyday women. Everyday women like Uyinene. Everyday women like me. Everyday women like you.
And yet, despite the sincerity behind it, there is still a lack of success in this movement or rather the diction and its connotations. Without a deeper understanding, this movement does not say that we hate masculine culture – it says that we hate men. Though it gets attention, the term “men are trash,” isn’t effective. It doesn’t make men go, “Oh, I see what you mean. Maybe I need to rethink the way I treat women.” Instead, it usually makes them defensive and angry. It makes them hate more. It tosses aside the common ground and goals we need to be discussing and reduces it to name-calling. Yes, we, women, have a right to be angry. Of course we do. But that doesn’t justify sinking to their level. Besides this, there are men that are standing beside us and I like to see that as a positive. As I had mentioned before, there are men that care. There are boys that care. And their support for our safety is important. I won’t speak on behalf of all of you because I do not know what your personal lives are like but I know that I have a father who loves and supports me and has never treated me as less than my brother. My brother, despite being an egghead at times, wants me to be safe and is concerned when he hears that the places that he feels most safe in are places that terrify me. I have men in my life who I know aren’t trash. But, again, the movement isn’t about them. And the movement isn’t about the boys that stand with us although their support is appreciated and valued. The movement isn’t about getting your revenge on that soured relationship nor is it born from the hatred of so-called “bitter” women. The movement is a way for women to voice their frustrations towards an oppressive patriarchal structure in a way that doesn’t regard how tolerable it is for men. It is not our duty to make them feel better for crimes we have been the victims of at their hands. The movement is an outcry and it is a label that says “men are changing, yes, but they are not changing fast enough and we are tired of waiting”.
This morning’s moment of silence is not a protest, it is a memorial. It remembers Uyinene Mrwetyana. It remembers Karabo Mokoena who was murdered by her boyfriend. It remembers the women before them. It mourns for the women after them. This morning is not about clout. It’s not about Instagram story views, or likes or subscribers. It’s not about filters, or tags, or twitter threads. This morning is about standing with one another and thinking about what has been done. It’s thinking about Uyinene Mrwetyana whose dead body was lying in a ditch in Khayelitsha whilst her parents sat at home and wondered where their daughter was. Change needs to happen from within. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, if you don’t care then nothing will happen. Today you have the opportunity to show that you care without having to validate it with a status update. Today you will stand with Uyinene and all those who have suffered at the hands of men. I’m wearing black because I don’t want to live in fear of being the next breaking news story. Why are you?”
The address was followed by prayers and a minute of silence on Front Lawn.