#FeesMustFall activists still on trial
Khanya Cekeshe, a FootPrint Media Academy student who is serving a five-year jail term in Leeuwkop prison for burning a police van in Braamfontein at the height of the #FeesMustFall protests in 2016, was denied leave to appeal his sentence at the Johannesburg Regional Court on Thursday.
Cekeshe is one of several students either still on trial or languishing in jail for participating in solidarity with the #FeesMustFall protests that turned violent at universities and colleges in the country between 2015 and 2017.
This week student organisations called on the government and tertiary institutions to withdraw charges against students who participated in the protests, to pardon those already serving prison sentences and forgive the ones who were expelled and barred from attending lectures on campuses.
Cekeshe was successfully convicted in the Johannesburg Regional Court on December 4 after video footage allegedly showing him throwing something inside the police van before it caught fire surfaced. He faced charges of arson, public violence and malicious damage to state property. He was sentenced to eight years in Leeuwkop, of which three years were suspended.
This week a magistrate dismissed Cekeshe’s application for leave to appeal his sentence saying the sentence was already sufficiently lenient and there were no grounds to grant leave to appeal.
His lawyer Phado Khumalo said she would review the magistrate’s decision. She said Cekeshe was a first-time offender and “an honest young person who was in solidarity with other students”. She said Cekeshe was a student attending a private college in Braamfontein and his fees were paid up by his parents.
“Really, the evidence against him is not worth an eight-year sentence,” she said, adding that should she be unsuccessful in applying for the review of the magistrate’s decision, she would instruct advocate Molebang Ramaii to “escalate the matter by petitioning the high court”.
Student activists and their sympathisers argued this week that since former president Jacob Zuma affirmed the #FeesMustFall campaign by declaring fee-free higher education at the end of the ANC conference in December 2017, there was no need to punish the students who led and participated in the campaign.
Lwando Majiza, national SA Students’ Congress (Sasco) secretary-general, told City Press this week that the organisation had met Higher Education and Training Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize three times to discuss the students’ cases. The last meeting was on January 26.
“We agreed on the review of the cases of students who were either arrested or still faced charges as a result of their participation
in the #FeesMustFall protests. But this would happen on a case-by-case basis as the charges differed,” Majiza said.
The proposal should not be perceived to be “encouraging lawlessness, such as the burning of buildings”.
He said they were struggling to trace students facing charges related to the protests. So far, only eight students had come forward.
Masixole Mlandu, Pan Africanist Student Movement of Azania representative at the University of Cape Town Students’ Representative Council, said the organisation’s national executive met last week to discuss a national plan for all court cases involving the #FeesMustFall students across the country.
“The branch at UCT has made a submission to vice-chancellor Max Price and the university council. We intend to announce a mass action plan to demand amnesty for all students who were charged, expelled or arrested because of their involvement in the protests,” Mlandu said.
Mangaliso Sambo, Economic Freedom Fighters’ student command national spokesperson, said the party wanted to secure amnesty for all students who were charged or suspended under the #FeesMustFall banner.
He said the higher education and training department had undertaken to speak individually to the universities in a meeting with the EFF on January 8. However, it was understood that a blanket approach to the charges faced by students would not work.
He said students were mobilising for “an impactful mass action” to bring back all students under the #FeesMustFall banner.
“If we don’t show our anger and dissatisfaction with the report of the president which omits the casualties of the protest, it will mean we have forgotten about those students who now face academic suspension and criminal charges.”