The long walk to free education
Students' trek from KZN to Union Buildings reminds Thuli Madonsela of Mahatma Gandhi
The historic walk of student activists to the Union Buildings reminded former public protector Thuli Madonsela of Mahatma Gandhi.
“The young leaders deserve our support for the remarkable sacrifice of their festive season time to create a platform for engagement with President Cyril Ramaphosa on youth unemployment and other young people’s concerns,” Madonsela tweeted on Wednesday.
The walk started on December 18 in Isandlwana, KwaZulu-Natal and ended on Tuesday evening. Student activists camped on the lawns of the Union Buildings in Pretoria before handing over their memorandum on Wednesday.
The group’s Philani Nduli said: “From day one, no one has ever [negatively] affected us … People have just been coming and joining us, showing us love, hugging us, singing with us, praying for us. There has never been a single incident.”
Their memorandum called on Ramaphosa to free Khanya Cekeshe, a student serving a five-year prison sentence for setting a police van alight during the #FeesMustFall protests in 2016. Presidency director-general Cassius Lubisi accepted the memorandum on Wednesday.
Their other demands included: Free education;
The unconditional release and pardon of #FeesMustFall activists;
Government intervention in the violence against women, children and the LGBTIQA+ community;
Addressing unemployment and poverty;
Lifestyle audits for all politicians;
Stopping wasteful expenditure;
Scrapping of free national and international trips for the families of ministers; and
The regulation of economic activities of foreigners, especially from countries outside Africa.
Nduli said the walk was a spontaneous idea, planned only days before hitting the road.
“SA is a national crisis, and the government is in denial of this … The country is at war with itself. That’s why we subjected ourselves to torture of the sun, harsh weather conditions, long kilometres of walking, muscle pains and everything so that we demonstrate to government how frustrated we are as the youth and that we can no longer breathe.”
Nduli said they found lodging every night as their social media messages spread, sometimes sleeping in schools or creches.
“Social media, my brother. People we don’t know just opened their homes for us because they heard about our walk and were inspired. They were amazed. They were shocked.”
A couple of participants turned back after becoming ill or exhausted.
Nduli said they felt it was unfair for Cekeshe to spend his second Christmas behind bars. He said they visited Cekeshe at Leeuwkop prison in Johannesburg on Sunday.
“He is very strong and very grateful for the support he has been receiving from outside. We are hopeful that he will be released.”
Justice minister Michael Masutha said last year there would be no blanket exemption from prosecution or presidential pardons to students linked to violent #FeesMustFall protests.
Masutha instead said the department will help students to make applications to the National Prosecuting Authority to review possible judgments.