SHAEERA KALLA: I didn't get what I needed from Mbete interview


When I was approached to ask Mam' Baleka a question by Mehdi Hasan’s team I wondered: Why Baleka Mbete? The team at his show, Al-Jazeera's Head to head, said they wanted to do a show on South Africa and the ANC for the longest time but could never secure someone brave enough to go head-to-head, so to speak, with the one and only Mehdi Hasan. (I am a huge admirer of the man.)

This engagement was particularly noteworthy for me as it would be the last one I had before heading home to South Africa after completing my Masters at Oxford University. Given that the fight for free and decolonised education is a continuation of the liberation struggle, which was left incomplete, I wanted to hear Mam' Baleka honestly reflect on how we got here - to a point where the policing of our state under the once glorious liberation movement now resembles the policing of the apartheid era.

As one of the young so-called trouble-makers who started the Fees Must Fall protests in 2015, I did the predictable thing by asking a question related to the movement. Although I admire Mam' Baleka's past as an activist and her contribution to the liberation struggle, I did not expect much given the topic and her compromised position. But nothing could have prepared me for the aloofness, arrogance and unpreparedness we witnessed at the Oxford Union that evening.

Police brutality is so pertinent, yet it is one of the least spoken about matters related to the Fees Must Fall movement, aside from the headlines that some incidents (including my own) made. We have ignored the trauma of the violence meted out against us by private security companies and the police. This has threatened the psyche of an entire generation of students; drop a Coke bottle and watch how we scramble.

The state criminalised activists and hundreds of students were arrested and charged. Kanya Cekeshe’s failed bail application and appeal as well as his five-year sentence, of which he has already served two years, have pushed us to question whether politically motivated disruption and violence should always be condemned and rejected. Most recently, young women were arrested while protesting the rape and murder of UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana and raising their voices against the sickening levels of rape and violence against women in our country, asking #AmINext?

Despite cooperating with bodies like the Independent Police Investigative Directorate by providing statements detailing attacks on us by police, we have heard no responses. Meanwhile, we read in the news that millions were spent on “state intelligence efforts”, in other words, spying and infiltration. The issues here can even be extended to political assassinations that have seen the ANC killing its own and investigations leading nowhere.

I took 13 rubber bullets to my back at close range. Forensic experts have said that if my back was not turned, this could have killed me. So many lives were lost in the struggle for our freedom but to lose students in protest today, 25 years later, still relentless in the continuation of the fight for that distant glitter of freedom but killed on their university campuses under a democratic government, is as painful as it is shameful. But Mam' Baleka was just “too busy” during all of this. For the comrades we have lost, these words are really all we have:

Senzeni na? Sono sethu, ubunyama? (What have we done? Is our sin that we are black?)
Benjamin Phehla (2016).
Katlego Monareng (2018).
Mlungisi Madonsela (2019).

I hope that one day when we tell their stories we will not have to utter the hopeless truth, “no one has been held accountable.”

Shaeera Kalla is the former Wits SRC President. She holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics and an Honours in Political Science from Wits University as well as an MSc in African Studies from Oxford University. She is the co-founder of a start up focused on ideation incubation called The Mbegu Platform.