Prominent civil society organisations, a bishop and former Wits student leaders including Tiego Moseneke, Thuli Madonsela, Kenneth Creamer and Mohammad Timol, today released a statement calling for the immediate release of #FeesMustFall activist Kanya Cekeshe.
Cekeshe has been in prison for the past two years and is serving an eight- year sentence at Leeuwkop Correctional Centre. He was arrested on charges of public violence and malicious damage to property when he tried to set a police van alight during protests in 2016.
Last week he was admitted to hospital to receive mental health treatment. His lawyers are in the process of arranging access to a psychiatrist in prison so as to manage his mental health while fighting for his release.
Cekeshe is the only #FeesMustFall activist still languishing in jail and his legal team, now led by advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, argue that his case was badly handled by his previous lawyer and that his statement and the charges levelled against him were incongruous.
The Fees Must Fall movement was established in 2015 by students in protest against rising students’ fees in tertiary institutions and advocated for greater government subsidies. Cekeshe was among the students at the University of Witwatersrand championing the cause.
Last month, Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola said that his department would assist Cekeshe in seeking a presidential pardon. The road to a presidential pardon, however, is controversial and would need to be traversed once other legal avenues have been exhausted. Instead, the statement calls for compassion, understanding and proposes that the “justice system take into consideration the option of rehabilitation outside of the prison system, such as, community service, correctional supervision or suspended prison sentences.”
Past #FeesMustFall leader Shaeera Kalla said: “This message of support to the last remaining #FeesMustFall activist in jail challenges the false dichotomy between the struggle for free education & the struggle for a free & democratic South Africa. I implore others to join us in calling for the unconditional release of comrade Kanya Cekeshe.”
We reproduce their statement in full below.
Public statement by former student leaders and members of the clergy and civil society concerning #FeesMustFall student activist, Kanya Cekeshe
As former student leaders and members of the clergy and civil society, we ask for greater awareness, compassion and empathy for the plight of #FeesMustFall activist, Kanya Cekeshe.
Kanya Cekeshe is a student activist who has been in Leeuwkop prison since December 2017 after he was sentenced to five years in jail for public violence and malicious damage to property during the #FeesMustFall protests. Kanya has been denied bail despite no prior criminal history. This past week Kanya was hospitalised due to his mental health.
The #FeesMustFall protests for free, decolonised and quality education, and an end to outsourcing at South African universities, were the biggest protests since the end of apartheid. The #FeesMustFall movement displayed once again the power of the youth in raising their voices for social justice.
Our history as South Africans has countless examples of young people taking a stand in the name of freedom, equality and dignity. In South Africa and globally, the youth are often seen as the mirrors of societies’ souls.
While the gains of the #FeesMustFall movement are being felt by many at our universities, with the implementation of fee-free higher education for students from poor and working class families, there have been serious negative consequences for the lives of many #FeesMustFall activists.
Particularly concerning is the case of student activist, Kanya Cekeshe, who has been sentenced to jail time on charges of public violence and malicious damage to property. His conviction and sentence is currently being appealed.
We understand that Kanya has a new legal team who argue that their client was given poor legal advice by a legal aid lawyer, who failed to appeal the 8 year sentence (which later became a 5-year sentence with 3 years being suspended) when the sentence was given. The new legal team, led by Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi and Attorney Wikus Steyl, has subsequently proceeded to apply for an urgent appeal at the High Court.
Kanya has already served two years in prison. We believe that Kanya’s sentence is unfair and unjust given the context of heightened tension and protest in which his actions occurred. Greater leniency ought to have been applied in the granting of bail, conviction and sentencing.
As activists and former student leaders, many of us have participated in protests and pickets and therefore we understand that despite efforts to maintain the discipline of peaceful protest, emotions at times run high and matters get out of hand. When this happens, we would ask for greater compassion, empathy and understanding of the contexts in which protest actions occur.
We do not believe that Kanya should have to spend more time in prison. We further suggest that in appropriate circumstances our justice system take into consideration the option of rehabilitation outside of the prison system, such as, community service, correctional supervision or suspended prison sentences. We believe that such an approach was adopted in many instances of student activism in the Western Cape, but was not considered in Kanya’s case.
As concerned citizens, civil society organisations and former student leaders, we believe in and support a vibrant, non-racial, non-sexist and progressive student movement. We further strongly believe that student protest should be peaceful and non-violent, and this is what we counselled the #FeesMustFall generation of protestors during their protests.
We maintain, however, that a student activist like Kanya should not be jailed for his role in the #FeesMustFall protests. We call for a deeper understanding of the context in which his actions occurred and the expedition of legal processes to be undertaken to secure his release so that he can continue with his studies, regain his mental health and may be allowed to take his place in making a positive contribution to the building of a better South Africa. We stand in solidarity with Kanya Cekeshe.
This statement is endorsed and supported by:
Bishop Joe Seoka
Moulana Ebrahim Bham (Secretary-General Jamiat ul Ulama SA)
Thuli Madonsela (Wits 1989 – 1990)
Mohammad Timol (Former Political Detainees)
Firoz Cachalia (Wits 1970’s and 1980’s)
Tiego Moseneke (Wits 1980’s)
Brendan Barry (Wits 1980’s)
Thandeka Gqubule-Mbeki (Wits 1980’s)
Chris Ngcobo (Wits 1980’s)
Moss Mashishi (Wits 1980’s)
Mogomotsi Mogidri (Wits 1980’s)
Khaya Ngema (Wits 1980’s and 1990’s)
Kenneth Creamer (Wits 1980’s and 1990’s)
Ebrahim Fakir (Wits 1980’s and 1990’s)
Thulani Khanyile (UCT early 1990’s)
Prishani Naidoo (Wits 1990’s)
Makhukhu Mampuru (Wits and RAU 1990’s)
Muhammad Cajee (Wits 2000)
Ashley Mabasa (Wits 2018)
Auwal Socio-Economic Research Institute (ASRI)
Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS)
Equal Education Law Centre (EELC)
Right2Know Campaign (R2K)
Treatment Action Campaign (TAC)