Uyinene was a 19-year old student, just like us. In the last week of August, Uyinene went missing. On Monday, 2 September, the news broke that a post office worker had been arrested for her rape and murder. Her story leapt to the forefront of a news cycle already saturated by daily reports of gender-based violence. Her name has joined the endless and ever growing list: Jesse Hesse (University of the Western Cape); Hannah Cornelius (Stellenbosch University); Lynette Volschenk; Meghan Cremer; Leighhandre Jegels; Ayakha Jiyane. These are the reported names, in an ocean of unreported ones.
Uyinene’s murder has left students, and especially our young women, overwhelmed with feelings of fear and anger. Students are scared because they don’t feel safe in their communities, in their homes, or even at their universities. On Wednesday, Graça Machel, widow of Nelson Mandela and Chancellor of UCT, speaking to thousands of students gathered for Uyinene’s memorial, expressed this with tremendous clarity when she declared: “there are no more safe spaces”. Our society has failed its women by tolerating any unsafe spaces, but those spaces which have been ‘safe’ have now diminished to the extent that every space is an unsafe one for female students. Now, women are asking #AmINext?
This fear has been accompanied by a tremendous anger. The difficulty is that the enemy is unseen and this has left students uncertain as to where to direct their fury. Some have directed it at the university, others at the government, and others towards the president. There is an intense anger directed towards men for perpetuating gender-based violence, and also for permitting it. The expression #menaretrash has once more become a rallying cry for many angry students.
But, Christian students, despite also being affected by the fear and outrage of these past weeks, are choosing to respond differently. And non-Christian students are not only taking notice, but they are also asking why. These students admire the way their Christian peers have been disturbed but unshaken. Some students, for the first time, are being confronted with death and the prospect of eternity. Now, they are turning to their Christian friends to help them make sense of the world we live in.
As Christians what can we offer to a generation who are scared and angry?
Remind them of God’s love and comfort. Then remind them of His justice.
Our students need to know that God cares about them deeply. For all the moral confusion in our universities, events like this reveal clearly that we still recognise injustice. Students are desperate for justice. How beautiful is a God of justice in such a time!
He said to his disciples, “Offenses will certainly come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to stumble”.
Luke 17:1-2 Christian Standard Bible (CSB)
Jesus told his disciples that those who cause his little ones to stumble should be warned. Jesus was on the offensive, teaching against those Pharisees, who, through their false teaching, are leading people away from God. Woe to those whom through offences come! Why? Because God cares profoundly for the ones he loves. Our God loved Uyinene, he loves each and every woman in our country. For this reason, he acts with justice.
For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong he has done, and there is no favouritism.
Colossians 3:25 Christian Standard Bible (CSB)
Remind them of God’s righteous judgement
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. Romans 12:19 (NIV)
Just as God acts for those He loves in the face of the Pharisees’ wayward teaching, He also loves and acts for those who are the sufferers of gender-based violence. Students have begun to call for the re-introduction of the death penalty. Jesus replies that the death penalty is a lesser penalty than the one which offenders should expect from the God of justice. Jesus does not outline a punishment, he outlines what would be preferable to the actual punishment. This is a terrifying and powerful image, and it’s one which our students need to be told.
The god of the secular world is perpetually weakened in their eyes. That god is distant and powerless, but that is not our God. Our God will act for Uyinene, for Jesse, for Hannah, Lynette, Meghan, Leighhandre, Ayakha, and every other little one. God’s love is our comfort in fear and despair and his justice is our comfort in our anger.
Remind them and ourselves of Jesus’s warnings
“Be on your guard. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
Luke 17:3-4 Christian Standard Bible (CSB)
Jesus continues by setting out the correct response to God’s love for his ‘little ones’ and his fearful justice: “Be on your guard”. We must keep ourselves from sin, and because we love others, we should seek to keep them from sin as well. So, all of us, and especially men, need to rebuke our peers and our Christian brothers when they objectify women. We don’t do this to climb the moral ladder, or to remind the world how much better ‘we Christians’ are. We do this because we desperately want to keep our fellow believers, our friends, and our classmates from the wrath of our God. For this reason, let us be ‘on guard’ against gender-based violence, and against rape and abuse, and against pornography, crudeness, lust, and catcalls. Let’s warn others, out of love and out of a healthy fear of the justice of our God.
Remind them of our God’s mercy and forgiveness
Forgiveness was not mentioned once at Uyinene’s memorial service. The very idea is outrageous to students. Yet Jesus tells us that as we challenge our friends and classmates we can expect that sometimes they will repent. Let us pray, that at a time like this, many do repent!
Jesus calls us to forgive those that do, and not just once, but again and again. Every time there is repentance we are called to forgive. By dying on the cross Jesus has demonstrated the extent to which he requires us to forgive. In this moment he displayed the full and glorious extent of God’s love, justice, and forgiveness. In that moment we are awed by the love of God. He will not relent in his justice, but he cares so deeply for us that he has made a way for all of us: students, professors, ministers and rapists to be forgiven. At this very moment, He is calling for us all to repent. Amazingly, because of Jesus, he is ready to forgive us.
On the night of Wednesday 4 September, around two hundred Christian students from different Christian Societies at UCT gathered on the steps of the central plaza, where the memorial took place earlier that day. These students too were full of fear and anger, but these students prayed together to the God of the cross. They looked up, towards the God that loves us, that acts for the justice of his ‘little ones’, who calls us all to repent of our sins and, who has made a way for us to be forgiven. Together, as the sun set on those university steps and as the whole country was covered with darkness, they sang:
‘Malibongwe, Malibongwe, Malibongwe, Igama leNkosi’
(Praise it, Praise it, Praise it, the name of our God)
Tim Gertzen is an English and Law student at UCT. He is the Chairperson of the Reach Students Society there. The society is affiliated with the Reformed Evangelical Anglican Church of South Africa (REACH-SA) and exists to reach UCT students with the gospel and get them plugged into local bible-believing churches.