Fees Must Fall activists want presidential pardon for criminal charges
Calls for charges to be dropped have continued to mount‚ with the National Union of Metalworkers of SA throwing its support behind the students
Justice minister Michael Masutha has received a memorandum from Fees Must Fall activists who are demanding they receive presidential pardon from criminal charges they face following unrest after the fees were hiked.
Some of the activists‚ including former Wits University students’ representative council (SRC) spokesperson Mcebo Dlamini‚ travelled to parliament on Wednesday‚ where they demonstrated outside. Their demands include a "truth and reconciliation commission (TRC) equivalent" that will address and‚ possibly‚ find amicable solutions to, the problems that arose as a result of the protests.
"This TRC is important because it will give both students‚ the government and the universities a chance to reflect and engage in an honest dialogue on how the protests degenerated into violence and how that violence could have been curbed. The Fees Must Fall protests were a sad state of affairs that should never happen in a democratic country. Through dialogue we can begin to set out strategies on how not to find ourselves in a déjà vu moment‚" the memorandum read.
Another demand was for charges against all students who were arrested‚ some of whom have since been convicted‚ to be dropped.
"We call for the president of the country to use his prerogative powers to grant amnesty to all students and workers who are criminally charged‚ convicted or arrested as a result of participating in the protests. The arrest of these students has the direct consequence of not only affecting individual students‚ but of affecting the indigent communities they come from. In a country like ours‚ where the cracks of inequality run deep‚ the government has a responsibility‚ at the very least‚ to ensure it does not exacerbate already existing inequalities‚" said the memorandum.
"Many more students who were not criminally charged were suspended and some expelled from their institutions of higher learning. As it stands, there are not enough black people who have access to higher education because they are poor‚ but our universities still have the audacity to expel these students."
Calls for charges to be dropped against the students have continued to mount‚ with the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) throwing its support behind the students.
Free-education activist Bonginkosi Khanyile‚ from the Durban University of Technology‚ is one of those who faces jail time for his participation in the fee-hike revolt. He was found guilty last week of public violence‚ failing to comply with police instructions, and being in possession of a dangerous weapon.
Another student‚ Khanya Thandile Cekeshe‚ is currently serving time for setting a police van alight during the protests in 2016‚ while Dlamini is facing charges of theft‚ assault‚ public violence and malicious damage to property relating to the same protests. His trial is yet to begin.
In their memorandum‚ the students also demanded that sex crimes against students be addressed.
"The number of cases that concern sexual violence in our institutions has been increasing at alarming rates. What is even more alarming‚ though‚ is how our institutions and the department of education have been complacent in dealing with the matter. It is true that sexual violence is a societal problem‚ but where it finds expression in our institutions of learning (where we spend most of our time and regard as home), the department and the government have to act immediately."
In one of the latest incidents‚ Rhodes University student Khensani Maseko committed suicide after allegedly being raped.
Also among the students’ demands were calls for government to resolve the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) debacle‚ the student accommodation crisis, and to root out racism in the institutions.
Meanwhile‚ on Wednesday‚ parliamentary bouncers ejected a man who attempted to disrupt President Cyril Ramaphosa’s reply to questions in the National Assembly. The man‚ who claimed to be a student‚ stormed the public gallery of the National Assembly shortly after 3pm. He hoisted a placard and shouted‚ "Fees must fall"‚ while the president was addressing the house in the presence of Japanese guests.