Student activist could get 15 years

2016-11-01 20:18
Athabile Nonxuba (Jenni Evans, News24)

Athabile Nonxuba (Jenni Evans, News24)

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Cape Town - UCT student activist Athabile Nonxuba faces a prison sentence of 15 years if convicted on a charge of robbery during Fees Must Fall protests, the Cape Town Magistrate's Court heard on Tuesday.

Wearing his grey University of Cape Town sweater and holding a copy of Steve Biko's I Write What I Like, Nonxuba listened intently as he heard he was being accused of a Schedule 5 offence.

He is one of 304 people arrested over the past two weeks for incidents during student protests to demand free tertiary education. A total of 831 people have been arrested since February 1 this year.

Schedule 5 offences are considered crimes so serious in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act that the applicant has to justify being granted bail.

Paralympian Oscar Pistorius faced the same task of justifying bail when he first appeared in court charged with the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.


Prosecutor Neilen Chetty said the State would not oppose bail.

Defence attorney Malixole Siqyana complained that so far he had not received information about what Nonxuba allegedly did to face such a serious charge.

According to information read into the record by Chetty, on October 24 a bus driver was transporting students from a residence to the University of Cape Town campus.

READ: What is decolonised education?

Given the protests, there were security guards on the bus. Nonxuba and fellow protesters allegedly took the keys to the bus and interfered with the bus driver's work, submitted Chetty.

The court spent some time unravelling the timeline and jurisdiction of other cases the 23-year-old undergraduate faces. He has no previous convictions.

He is already out on bail on a charge of malicious damage to property after being arrested on February 16 during the Shackville protests at UCT; housebreaking with intent to commit a crime (amended from burglary), after being arrested on October 17.

Nonxuba said in an affidavit, read by Siqyana: “I am innocent until the State can prove beyond reasonable doubt that I am guilty. I want to write my exams and finish my degree.”

Hero's welcome

Nonxuba is majoring in public policy and administration. The jail cells he was being kept in were not conducive to studying, he said.

He committed himself to not interfering with State witnesses and would report to police, or comply with any terms the court ordered. He also did not think the community would be outraged by his release.

Before releasing him on bail of R500 “in the interests of justice”, Magistrate Aziz Hamid warned him not to “commit a further criminal offence”. This led to mutterings from the public gallery of “what happened to presumption of innocence?”.

“You are in fact very fortunate to be getting bail in the first place, given the fact that this is your third offence. If this continues, you can be almost certain that bail will be denied.”

Outside he was treated to a hero's welcome and an impromptu march, accompanied by joyous singing, as the students made their way to the train and bus station.

“I have no words,” he said, as supporters clamoured around him.

“Let it be known that we will not be silenced. We will not stop until there is free decolonised education.”

On Wednesday, another activist, Masixole Mlandu, is expected to appear in the Wynberg Magistrate's Court for alleged malicious damage to property.

Read more on:    uct  |  university protests  |  university fees

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