Calls to have #FMF activists pardoned and released are mounting

Support is mounting for the call for amnesty for convicted #FeesMustFall student activists and those facing criminal charges. Supporters are rallying behind the bid to have President Cyril Ramaphosa pardon and release activists arrested during the student protests that took place from 2015.

On Friday, August 17, former Wits University Student Representative Council (SRC) president, Mcebo Dlamini, walked from the main campus in Braamfontein to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, to deliver a letter to Ramaphosa requesting amnesty for students facing the prospect of jail or currently in jail. Dlamini’s 60km walk was accompanied by messages of support and various other demonstrations in other parts of the country.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) showed support for the activists on Tuesday, August 21, by calling for charges against all student activists to be dropped.

On the same day, student activist Bonginkosi Khanyile, who attended Durban University of Technology (DUT) during the #FeesMustFall campaign, together with other students staged a sleep-out at the Union Buildings to urge the president to pardon their crimes.

Khanyile was found guilty of public violence earlier this month after he used a slingshot to stone police during the protests at DUT in 2016. He is due to appear for his sentencing hearing on October 16.
National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Phindi Louw–Mjonondwane told Wits Vuvuzela that with all the cases, elements of criminality were the problem.

“Everyone has the right to protest. The students had the right to protest but as soon as criminal acts such as assaulting law enforcement happen that becomes an issue. The students were charged criminally,” she said.
Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, spokesperson of Numsa, said that it was the organisation’s responsibility to protect children of the working class.

“There is no justification for why these students should be charged or arrested. The system is brutal and we have a duty to defend the students. No police were ever arrested for assaulting students,” she said.
Hlubi-Majola added, “If the government does not give the students pardons, [Numsa] will mobilise the working class and show the world that apartheid has not ended in South Africa.”

Yonela Ngaleka, a former student activist whose story has been overshadowed by that of her male comrades, is on trial for her participation in the 2016 protests at Wits University.

According to a charge sheet seen by Wits Vuvuzela, Ngaleka, together with Khanya Cekeshe, was charged with malicious injury to property on October 25, 2016, for setting a police van alight.

The malicious injury to property charge against Ngaleka was subsequently dropped in August 2017 due to a lack of evidence. She is currently facing a charge of public violence. She will appear at the Johannesburg Magistrates Court on Friday, August 29.

Cekeshe, however, was convicted at the Johannesburg Magistrates’ Court in December 2017 and sentenced to eight years, with three years suspended. He is serving the sentence at Leeuwkop prison.
Twenty-year-old Ngaleka said that the recent calls for the release and removal of all charges against #FeesMustFall activists were good news.

“It’s about time the government dropped these charges. They are displaying us as criminals although we were fighting for a noble cause. The very same government which gave amnesty to perpetrators during the TRC is failing to pardon a few students… It’s just a sad reality,” she said.

She added, “This case did not only frustrate me, but my family, and church mates. My parents are always stressed and in fear that I will go back to prison. My siblings are in constant fear that one day I will go to court and not come back home but be sent to prison.”

Thokozani Chilenga, associate lecturer at the Wits department of political studies, said that the calls to have students pardoned were justified but could have a negative impact in the future.
“There should be some move by the state to either negotiate or maybe release them with a warning. The state has tried to put free education in place and this was the cause that students were fighting for. Their actions have caused the state to put structures in place.

“If the state does this then they will be setting a precedent for people in future protests. People might think that they can protest, get arrested and then released if the protest led the state to action,” Chilenga said.

FEATURED IMAGE: Student activistsare demanding that they be granted amnesty       Photo:Wits Vuvuzela