Former Fees Must Fall activists Nompendulo Mkhatshwa and Naledi Chirwa, now respectively African National Congress (ANC) and EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) members of parliament, took the opportunity during the State of the Nation Address (SONA) debate to challenge the president on issues pertinent to students. The SONA debate took place on June 25 and gave MPs the opportunity to respond to Cyril Ramaphosa’s speech.
ANC MP Nompendulo Mkhatshwa said she could not ignore that, while in December 2016 free education became a part of government policy, a win for the Fees Must Fall activists, some students who took part in the protest in 2015/16 were still charged with public violence and destruction of public property.
“Consequence of our call for free quality and decolonised higher education, talented young South Africans find themselves behind bars,” she said. “Others are charged, expelled, suspended, emotionally scarred and politically desponded. Comrade President, the unconditional release of Kanya and all others must be prioritised.”
The EFF’s Naledi Chirwa pointed out issues she thought the president did not address during his speech.
“Your government is responsible for many and the most heinous of crimes. You jailed Kanya Cekeshe, you jailed Bonginkosi Khanyile and are complicit for the brutal murders Benjamin Phehla, of Bongani Madonsela just because they asked for a free education that you promised them when they were still toddlers in 1994,” she said.
Chirwa also made reference to the student accommodation issue currently plaguing many students: “You have over a million students across all universities but you can only accommodate just under 130,000 of students. Where must the rest stay?”
Last week, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) announced it would not be prosecuting security guards who shot and killed Durban University of Technology student Mlungisi Madonsela, showing further injustice for students.
The youth and students clearly have voices in their corner, in the form of Chirwa and Mkhatshwa, in the current parliament who will hold the president and cabinet accountable if youth issues are ignored. Whether or not charges against fees must fall activists will be dropped remains to be seen.
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