While Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Michael Masutha has committed to helping Fees Must Fall activists in their attempt to get pardoned for their alleged crimes, he also made it clear he cannot and will not provide blanket amnesty to all Fees Must Fall activists.
“On the instruction of President Cyril Ramaphosa I, in my capacity as minister of justice and correctional services, met with higher education student activists on Friday at the Union Buildings. They were demanding a general amnesty for their fellow comrades who came into conflict with the law as a result of incidents that occurred during the #FeesMustFall campaign protests,” Masutha said on Monday.
“On both occasions, I pointed out that in line with its respect for the principles of separation of powers and the rule of law, the executive branch of government had neither the mandate nor the inclination to favour any person or group of people with a specific or general reprieve outside the existing constitutional and legal framework,” he continued.
However, the EFF on Monday released a statement saying they “welcome the initiative by [Masutha] to have all Fees Must Fall activists pardoned”.
While Masutha did commit to helping the students, through “facilitating applications and draft memorandums on the basis of which the minister made a recommendation to the president for decision”, the activists are still some way from officially being pardoned.
Masutha says he will approach the NPA and request that they “consider evaluating each case, specifically in order to determine the seriousness or otherwise of the charge.”
This means that Masutha appears to be calling on the National Prosecuting Authority to evaluate whether students should be pardoned on a case-by-case basis, rather than seeking to have all the activists pardoned.
Regardless of whether Masutha and EFF are on the same page about what the minister’s statement actually means, the EFF have nevertheless called on students to take advantage of his offer of help.
“We call on all student activists who are facing trial, are on trial or are serving guilt sentences to come out in numbers and take advantage of the application to receive a presidential pardon,” they said.
They also offered to assist, saying: “All who require help must contact the EFF Student Command branches in their respective universities.”
The red berets want all universities to to pardon activists who have faced expulsion, suspension or any internal disciplinary processes over the protests, and added that this applied not only to those who protested against fees but also those who protested rape.
The organisation singled out Rhodes University. It was reported on Saturday that it is alleged that some students there have been excluded from campus due to their anti-rape activism and that others have been made to sign documents preventing them from continuing to protest.
The EFF seems to want all students pardoned regardless of the severity of their case, saying students must be pardoned for “any law-breaking”.
“Protest by its nature is in conflict with the law,” the statement reads, arguing that illegal acts committed during protests should be reframed as “civil disobedience.”