It’s been almost a year since then-president Jacob Zuma announced free tertiary education, legitimising the call of South African students. However, a number of students who protested in Fees Must Fall (FMF) movement of 2015-2017 face charges for their involvement. This has resulted in a growing call for the state to drop all charges. Justice Minister Michael Masutha said the ministry will help students approach the National Prosecuting Authority to get their cases reviewed. But he said it should be noted presidential pardons are only granted to sentenced and convicted people. The Daily Vox spoke to former and current university students and student leaders about whether they think the state should provide amnesty to the students or not.
Mosibudi “Rassie” Rasethaba (25) UP
On July 6, my application for discharge in terms of s174 was granted at the Pretoria Magistrate Court and I was found not guilty on all four charges of 1. Public violence 2. Incitement to commit illegal activities 3. Contravention of High Court order 4. Contravention of bail conditions.
Yes, students should get amnesty. FMF was a political project in which students, workers, academics and other sympathisers were engaged in. The demands of the project were accepted as being just by the government. For that reason all participants who were arrested, suspended or expelled for FMF must receive amnesty. The amnesty must go beyond the judicial processes but must also include the following: Workers who were dismissed from work as a result of their participation in either FMF or #OursourcingMustFall must be reinstated; students that have been suspended or expelled from university because of their participation in all fallist-related protests must be allowed back into universities. If government and university believe that free education is necessary they should give amnesty to all students and workers involved.
Nuhaa Soeker (22) University of Cape Town (UCT)
I believe FMF activists and student leaders should be granted amnesty. FMF as a movement fought for, not only current students and future generations but for, the generational economic and social turmoil that apartheid and colonialism handed our parents and grandparents. Criminalising activists will not change the fact that our country is still in the process of revolution and ridding ourselves of apartheid – we can’t ignore the message of pain and desperation that came from student protests, which were not only about fees. Criminalising activists will, once again, send the message that black pain does not deserve to be heard and is not valid, and criminal records will hand youth lifetime sentences and stigma as punishment for the fight and sacrifices they made in aid of their lived realities – a concept our country is very familiar with.
Tumelo Rasebopye (28) University of Pretoria (UP)
The state acknowledged that the protest was a necessity to provide better access to education to working class students, to the South African youth at large. I can’t believe we’re having this conversation around whether amnesty should be provided or not. There should be a presidential pardon towards students who played their duty in transformation in the institutional sphere to ensure students are not hindered them from acquiring an education. Even in Gauteng, we’ve seen Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi pushing to add that students should not be discriminated against based on their parents financial status. Yet while they are advancing these causes, those who advanced the cause for free education are still in prison. As part and parcel of delivering free education, freedom should also be delivered to those who played a significant role in campaigning for it.
Keitumetse Fatimata Moutloatse (23) Wits University
As a student who was actively involved in the FMF movement, I think it’s problematic that a selected few are facing criminal charges. I also do find it particularly disturbing for certain students to campaign for amnesty: by virtue of us asking for amnesty, we are saying these students are guilty of criminal acts and we are pardoning them from these acts. This, for me, is very problematic because it does have an impact on young students for employment prospects or just any form of socialising back into the community and into society. I do think that all charges should be dropped immediately by the state, particularly understanding that these charges were supposedly acquired during the protests for free education which has been implemented. Free our political prisoners, free our student leaders!
Siphelele Nguse (27) University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN)
My view is that FMF activist should get amnesty. The fight for free, quality education is a just one. The declaration of free education for the poor and lower-middle class by former president Jacob Zuma proves that FMF was premised on a just cause. It, therefore, defeats logic to incriminate people who were fighting a just cause that seeks to contribute to the development of the country and the people. Free, quality education does not only assist in poverty elimination but it also seeks to de-commodify higher education. Access to higher education should be on the basis of meritocracy not on affordability. A son/daughter of a farm worker, domestic worker and street vendor should have access to higher education in the same way that a son/daughter of a middle-class or rich citizen has.
Lebogang Paul Lebese (23) UP
I would say yes. At the end of 2015, with then-President Jacob Zuma at the Union Buildings it was promised that no one would see retribution personally or be held liable up to that day and going forward for their involvement in the FMF protests. My view is that it is tyrannical for universities and states to prosecute and punish the activists. These are basically apartheid-style tactics to frighten people from speaking up and gathering in support of a cause. They’re targeting people and that’s simply immoral and unfair, in my view.
Cayla Zukiswa Jack (22) UCT
I support the call for amnesty to be granted to student activists across the country for their participation in the FMF-related protests and to address the issues at institutions of higher learning. As current secretary general serving on UCT’s SRC, and as leaders, it’s really our duty to raise awareness on the plight of these students who are going to jail and to ask for amnesty on their behalf. This is the fight for free education – a just and essential cause which the future of this country will proudly look back at. They’ve made education more accessible to the people of this country. Some of these activists facing these consequences have shaped the future of South Africa in ways which were previously unimaginable.
Ntabeleng Sibiya (22) UKZN
I believe that the students charged for involvement in the FMF protests should get amnesty because at the end of the day it was for a good cause. They weren’t the only ones who were protesting and they should be able to reap the same benefits that we all will. There’s no point in them fighting for free education and then possibly falling back into poverty because their criminal records hinder them from getting proper jobs. They haven’t done anything wrong and they should not be treated as criminals.
Lindiwe Dhlamini, UCT
I do believe students should be granted amnesty. As one of the students who was arrested and suspended during the protests I know how difficult that time was for me, for my mental health. It’s important for South Africa as a whole to stand up for FMF activists like they did when it first started. People don’t understand the violence and trauma we suffered as students. The only side that was shown in the media is the side when we retaliated to the violence we suffered when we’re having silent or peaceful protests. We are still trying to heal from the scars from the revolution. We should all get involved in ensuring that all students who were charged for involvement in FMF are granted amnesty and given a chance to heal so they can get an education and continue with their lives. Amnesty would be a step to show that SA is serious about transformation and decolonisation.
Rashaad Yusuf Dadoo (22) Wits University
The toll FMF has had on student,s both physically and psychologically, cannot be undermined. To further prosecute students for their participation in the legitimate call for a free, decolonised and quality education would serve as a reminder that legality is about power and not justice. If it was about justice, than those students who have sacrificed dearly for future generations, would be granted amnesty as their actions would be viewed as necessary in the struggle for a more equitable South Africa, which FMF represented.
Voxes edited for length, clarity and brevity