Eight years for strik­ing one match

A stu­dent ar­rested dur­ing the #FeesMustFall protest in 2016 is fight­ing his ‘harsh’ sen­tence

Mail & Guardian - - News - Bongek­ile Macupe

Khaya Cekeshe badly wanted to study law at the Univer­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand but his par­ents couldn’t af­ford

the fees.

Af­ter do­ing one year of law at Unisa, where the fees were cheaper, he dropped out. In 2016, he was a first-year me­dia stud­ies stu­dent at Foot Print Me­dia in Auck­land Park, Jo­han­nes­burg.

The 24-year-old had am­bi­tions of study­ing me­dia law when he com­pleted his me­dia stud­ies course.

At the height of the #FeesMustFall protest, he joined a protest by Wits stu­dents in Braam­fontein in Oc­to­ber 2016, even though he at­tended a pri­vate col­lege. It didn’t end well for him. He was ar­rested.

“He had been want­ing to go to Wits for a very long time. So when the #FeesMustFall protest started I think it trig­gered some­thing in him that led him to join and sup­port the stu­dents from Wits in their cause,” Khaya’s fa­ther, Ntanda Cekeshe, told the Mail & Guardian this week at the fam­ily home in Had­don, in the south of Jo­han­nes­burg.

Cekeshe is serv­ing a five-year jail term in Leeuwkop prison. On De­cem­ber 4 last year the Jo­han­nes­burg mag­is­trate’s court sen­tenced him to eight years, with three years sus­pended, for his in­volve­ment in the protest, a sen­tence de­scribed as un­duly harsh.

Ad­vo­cate Mote­bang Ra­maili, who rep­re­sented Cekeshe, told the M&G he was charged with pub­lic vi­o­lence and ma­li­cious dam­age to prop­erty.

Ra­maili said Cekeshe was caught on CCTV footage bend­ing down next to a po­lice car try­ing to light a match — seem­ingly to burn the car. But it didn’t catch fire. The video footage was shown in court.

A pro­ba­tion of­fi­cer tes­ti­fied that he should not get di­rect im­pris­on­ment because he was still a stu­dent, a first­time of­fender and that the car didn’t burn. But the mag­is­trate be­lieved that it was a se­ri­ous of­fence, said Ra­maili.

The mag­is­trate also ques­tioned why Cekeshe was part of the protest, because he was not a Wits stu­dent and it was not his fight. Cekeshe was de­nied leave to ap­peal the sen­tence.

Non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion the South African Na­tive Fo­rum has taken up Cekeshe’s fight and will go to the Jo­han­nes­burg mag­is­trate’s court on Tues­day to ap­ply for a re­view of Cekeshe’s sen­tence, said the NGO’s di­rec­tor, Khathi Dikopo.

Dikopo said they would ar­gue for the sen­tence to be re­duced to a year of house ar­rest or com­mu­nity ser­vice.

“He fought for free higher ed­u­ca­tion and the for­mer pres­i­dent [Ja­cob Zuma] last year passed it as law that stu­dents will get free higher ed­u­ca­tion,” said Dikopo. “So because it was passed into law it shows that he was fight­ing for some­thing right. He should not be pun­ished for what is right. He was a first-time of­fender, the court should have shown le­niency.

“We have al­ready started with the process; we have been look­ing at what the pre­vi­ous le­gal team had done. On the 15th [of May] we are go­ing to go and ask for a post­pone­ment and then we are go­ing to come back with our strat­egy af­ter that.”

Ntanda said that, since po­lice came to his house in Oc­to­ber 2016 with his son hand­cuffed, life has been “hell” for the fam­ily.

He said the po­lice came to get the clothes Cekeshe had been wear­ing on the day of the protest. The po­lice tried to force Ntanda to open Cekeshe’s room but he re­fused to do so because they did not have a search war­rant.

An ar­gu­ment be­tween Ntanda, his wife and the po­lice en­sued, and his wife filmed it. Later, said Ntanda, about 15 po­lice stormed his yard and started as­sault­ing him and his wife. His wife was ar­rested for ob­struc­tion of jus­tice. She spent three days at the Hill­brow po­lice sta­tion and had to at­tend court for about six months un­til the matter was thrown out. At the same time Cekeshe was ap­pear­ing in court.

“On a Tues­day we would be at­tend­ing my wife’s court case and two days later we would go to Khaya’s case. It was just chaotic,” said Ntanda.

Cekeshe was re­leased on R5000 bail af­ter spend­ing six days in the Jo­han­nes­burg prison, also known as Sun City.

Ntanda said that when Khaya was sen­tenced to eight years’ jail it was a blow for the fam­ily, because they had not an­tic­i­pated such a harsh sen­tence.

“We were cer­tain that this thing would not turn this bad — there was no in­di­ca­tion that he would get eight years. The so­cial worker work­ing on the case wrote a re­port that he was a first-time of­fender and had no crim­i­nal record, and there was no ba­sis that he was a vi­o­lent person.

“We were not in court on the day of the sen­tenc­ing, because it was not even the day of the sen­tenc­ing, it was a nor­mal court ap­pear­ance. The lawyer called and told us what hap­pened in court,” he said.

The fam­ily vis­its Cekeshe twice a month.

Asked how he is far­ing in prison, Ntanda lets out a faint laugh be­fore say­ing: “It is so funny because we were there on Sun­day and he was ask­ing us how we are hold­ing up.”

His voice cracks and he be­gins to cry. In be­tween sobs he says: “He is strong, he is sur­viv­ing.”

He pauses, takes off his glasses, and wipes away the tears.

Five months af­ter Christ­mas, the Cekeshe fam­ily has still not re­moved the Christ­mas tree in their liv­ing room.

“My kids don’t want us to move it. They say it will stay there un­til Khaya comes back,” he says.

Cekeshe’s bond with his sib­lings “was great, because they could re­late to him. Es­pe­cially the lit­tle boy, they had a very spe­cial bond,” Ntanda says, and starts cry­ing again.

“There are a lot of kids who were in the protest who have done even worse than what he did but he had to take the fall — maybe for all of them who were not caught. He is in jail because he made a mis­take.”

Ntanda says the fam­ily is fo­cus­ing on get­ting Cekeshe out of jail and back home so that he can start his life afresh.

Re­minder: It’s five months since Christ­mas but Khaya Cekeshe’s sib­lings won’t re­move the Christ­mas tree un­til he re­turns home

Reper­cus­sions: When Khaya Cekeshe (above) was ar­rested the po­lice went to his home and, says his fa­ther Ntanda (be­low), af­ter an al­ter­ca­tion they ar­rested his wife for ob­struc­tion of jus­tice. Pho­tos: Oupa Nkosi

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