News that well-known Fees Must Fall activist Bonginkosi Khanyile was arrested in the early hours this week dominated headlines this weekend, with many questioning the Hawks’ heavy-handed tactics in orchestrating the arrest, reportedly at 2am at his student residence at Wits University.
He was transported to Durban Central Police Station shortly thereafter.
Khanyile had been calling for the release of former president Jacob Zuma after his imprisonment last month for contempt of court.
The 31-year-old Khanyile now faces being charged for allegedly being an instigator in the July unrest in KwaZulu-Natal that cost the country billions, led to 150,000 job losses and more than 300 deaths.
A Hawks statement said: “It is alleged that the suspect was involved in the incitement of public violence through social media and other platforms during the period of unrest in KwaZulu-Natal.
“He was arrested at one of the higher learning institutions in Johannesburg and was escorted to KwaZulu-Natal where he was detained,” spokesperson Colonel Katlego Mogale said in a statement on Friday.
He was to appear in the Durban Magistrate’s Court on Monday.
The EFF and its Student Command was yet to comment on the arrest.
However, in an interview with Khanyile’s mother, Sunday World reported that she was asking why the police had waited to “ambush” Khanyile while he was sleeping instead of just arresting him during the day.
She complained her son had been treated like a “hardened and wanted criminal” and argued he was just passionate about education and fighting for justice.
Examples can still be found online of Khanyile’s support for the #FreeZuma campaign.
Many troubles with the law
In 2019, Khanyile received a three-year prison sentence, suspended for five years, and a fine of R5,000, also suspended. He was ordered, however, to serve three years under house arrest by the Durban Regional Court.
Many onlookers and his supporters had been clad in EFF regalia.
In 2018, the EFF activist had pleaded guilty in the Durban Magistrate’s Court to four out of 13 criminal charges related to the violent 2016 Fees Must Fall protests in KwaZulu-Natal.
The guilty plea was related to public violence, possession of a dangerous weapon, and two counts of failure to comply with police orders.
Khanyile had admitted to unlawful assembly and using a slingshot to catapult stones at members of the SA Police Service.
He was arrested in September 2016 during running battles between police and Durban University of Technology students, which took place during the height of the protests.
He was charged with incitement to commit public violence, illegal gathering, possession of dangerous weapons (a slingshot), obstructing traffic, causing a nuisance on public roads, and possession of explosives.
Khanyile had earlier made headlines when his bail application made it all the way to the Constitutional Court after being denied at the lower courts. After close on six months in prison, the Constitutional Court granted him bail of only R250.
Tea with Zuma
He was one of several visitors who sat down for tea with Zuma at his Nkandla home in KwaZulu-Natal earlier this year.
YESTERDAY THINGS WITH PRESIDENT @PresJGZuma & Duduzile Zuma
When injustice is made law defiance becomes the patriotic duty “Rather than submit to the unjust laws we should defy them deliberately & in an organised manner and be prepared to bear the penalties”#ZumaAppreciationDay pic.twitter.com/KHOztHQAnT
— Bonginkosi Khanyile (@Khanyile_BG) February 6, 2021
Talking about an array of issues, such as Zuma’s defiance of the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, politics, and higher education, the former president had expressed pride in the student movement, he said.
“He has stated very frankly and openly that he is proud of the fight I waged in the Fees Must Fall campaign and the realisation of free education,” he said.
“He admitted that it was also due to how we pushed the struggle that he even saw that this thing had to be realised and he had to implement it. He was very proud of us and gave us unwavering support.”
Current government a problem, said Khanyile
Zuma declared that higher education would be free, shortly before passing the baton to his successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, at the 2017 ANC elective conference.
Soon thereafter, more than R57 billion was allocated to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas) to fund the new plan, but in his recent budget speech, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni announced a slashed budget towards higher education.
This perplexed Khanyile, who said he never imagined students would still be fighting for free education.
“Zuma gave us free education in 2017 and pronounced it and left it to the incoming government. But the incumbent is reversing all of our hard work of the struggle. We are even far back from where we started. I never imagined that, in 2021, we are fighting the same thing we fought for in 2015.”
Nsfas would no longer be paying for certain qualifications for new students, many secondary and postgraduate qualifications as of this year. Khanyile saw this as a betrayal of the promises made during the initial Fees Must Fall movement.
“We are actually back to where we started. We fought and we achieved some gains, but the current government is trying hard to roll back those achievements. I predict in the next four to five years, the same struggle is going to be fought. We are not going to solve it now. The language of free education is dying and all campuses are now solving their own individual problems.”
– Background reporting by Rorisang Kgosana