FIKILE-NTSIKELELO MOYA: The double-edged sword of Kanya Cekeshe's case
Immediately after the news that Fees Must Fall activist Kanya Cekeshe had been denied bail, members of the Economic Freedom Fighters student command went on the rampage around the vicinity of the Johannesburg Magistrates Court.
They blocked traffic and turned bins inside out, and threw rubbish across the city’s streets. They did this did to register their disapproval of the magistrate’s refusal to grant Cekeshe leave to appeal his conviction and eight-year sentence (three suspended) for malicious damage to property after he burned a police van.
The incident, or to use the proper term – the crime - was committed as part of the protests by students to push for the state to provide free tertiary education for poor but deserving students.
The incident outside court proved why the state needs to be harsh on public violence. It comes too easily and seems its roots keep getting deeper.
Normalising violence as a legitimate language of protest just because you do not like the government of the day serves nobody, especially not those who have ambitions of being in power themselves one day.
Which is not to say Cekeshe’s course is invalid. That the state finally conceded and poor students can today access tertiary education they otherwise would not have had, had it not been for the likes of Cekeshe, testifies to this.
In a country with the massive inequality and poverty as South Africa, it is in the best interest of the country’s long-term security and sustainability that the state intervenes decisively in efforts to uplift the poor. Education is one such intervention.
Cekeshe is not a victim. He is a martyr for a cause he chose. We must assume that like all true revolutionaries, he understood that his choices would have consequences.
To have to choose whether we believe his cause is just and whether he should be jailed for it is to ask us to consider a false dichotomy.
Justice Minister Ronald Lamola is within his rights to say as he did through his Twitter handle that he would assist Cekeshe to apply for a presidential pardon “or other legally available avenues”.
But if his conversations with his government counterparts do not include how the state can discourage the ease with which too many South Africans resort to violence to register their disgruntlements, then he should keep a template he would have used to help Cekeshe.
Lamola is going to need it again because Cekeshe will not be the last person to commit a crime in furtherance of a noble (or what they believe is a) goal.
Cekeshe is at once the poster boy of the hollowness of our democracy in that those in power only respond to acts of public violence, as well as how successful violence as a language of persuading the state has become.
That is why it is short termism to dwell on whether he should be freed or not. The questions that he represents will not be addressed by a court.
They can only be answered by a state having a hard look at and being honest with itself as to how it allowed for violence to be such an easy resort to anti-social behaviour when we have the ballot box and institutions such as the Constitutional Court and Chapter 9 organisations to help resolve public disputes.
Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is an independent journalist and former editor of The Mercury and The Witness.