Liberation movements need heroes with whom we connect, but creating holy cows while others fall on the wayside echoes arrogance of power
This October, we witnessed the skeletons of the #FeesMustFall campaign continuing to haunt the nation.
That movement is important on many levels because it did not just represent students’ demands for free education, a decolonised curriculum, removal of colonial statues and renaming of colonial buildings.
It also represented an intellectual struggle for black academics.
The Eurocentric epistemology and pedagogy with racialised hierarchies of knowledge production continue to define higher education in the country.
These are ingredients of institutional racism, exclusion/inclusion and culture in our universities.
The domination of Eurocentric gazes of the universities’ public spaces is underpinned by the coloniality of power, of knowledge and of being.
In this phenomenon, the Afrocentricity informs the need to Africanise universities.
Decoloniality is a multidimensional enterprise. This black man’s quest is underpinned by Africa-centred thinking.
The execution of a decoloniality project must take into account the theorisation and historicisation of self and primarily tackle public spaces, which are currently marginalised in the rethinking of universities.
It is in this light of student activism that some of the demands of the fallists must be historicised.
The University of Fort Hare, as an intellectual space for young black students in the 1940s, became a space for the national question and its debate.
The political liveliness and intellectual engagement of the late 1940s, for instance, brought a particular identity and the seed for a new phase of the national question.
The fallist movement is the continuation of this long tradition that dates back to 1940, to Robert Sobukwe’s ground-breaking seminal speech as the outgoing student representative council president at Fort Hare, and even earlier in the 20th century.
Due to failure to historicise the former, its dominant account is trapped in partisan narrative and a distant-recent past complex.
There is history of the Africanist thinking in the marathon of decolonising higher education in South Africa.
This marathon in the 20th century is incomplete without Sobukwe’s quest for an African university underpinned by African philosophic thought.
During the #FeesMustFall movement, some of its activists were arrested.
Others were later released while some were placed under house arrest or imprisoned.
The politics of the presidential political pardon are at play in the attempt to handle the imprisoned student activists.
According to the government website, “the presidential pardon is an executive act of mercy to be exercised by the president in his exclusive discretion, and which will only be reviewable by the courts in very limited circumstances where bad faith by the president can be proved”.
This praxis of the presidential pardon is contested.
The contestations are presented here in three different contexts:
First is Kanya Cekeshe’s case, the #FeesMustFall activist who is still imprisoned for torching a police vehicle during the student protests. On October 14, Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Ronald Lamola, responding to the decision by the court in Cekeshe’s matter, posted on Twitter: “We note the dismissal of both the leave to appeal and bail for Fees Must Fall activist Kanya Cekeshe by the Johannesburg Magistrate Court. We’re in the process of urgently assisting him with an application for presidential pardon or other legally available avenues.”
Lamola was joined by Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula, who stated on Twitter: “We must fix this. This cadre must be freed whatever it takes.”
The public held mixed views on the matter. While the gesture by the two ministers is welcomed by some, it illustrates popular politics and politics of relevance.
It raises fundamental questions about the intricacies of the presidential political pardon.
Second is the fiasco surrounding Kumkani Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo of abaThembu, who is serving a 12-year sentence for multiple convictions.
Before the May 8 general election, then justice minister Michael Masutha submitted a recommendation to President Cyril Ramaphosa to pardon him.
The recommendation was a result of a lengthy process that was followed by the ministry.
As the wheels of justice have been slow for the embattled kumkani, interest groups have tried to put pressure on the ANC.
Before the elections, these groups called for the boycott of the general election if Dalindyebo was not released.
Ramaphosa, during a visit to the Eastern Cape, promised to look into the matter after the elections.
Dalindyebo’s case demonstrates politics at play. Further, it displays the tension of the colonial master Roman/Dutch law against the indigenous African law and governance.
Lastly are the former Azanian People’s Liberation Army (Apla) members whose continued imprisonment highlights gaping discrepancies.
There are many of them who are languishing in prison without receiving a pardon from the president, while many apartheid perpetrators were given political pardon or amnesty and others walked free.
The continued imprisonment of the former Apla members is an insult to them, their families and political organisation.
The execution of presidential political pardoning normalises the abnormality.
With its undertones, it legitimises the colonial and apartheid outlook into the present.
This is partly as a result of the post-1994 disjointed national consciousness and reconciliatory disposition.
This is the indictment of the post-1994 politics and victor/loser complex.
This normalisation of abnormality and its legitimisation through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and other government official prescripts constitute violence at various levels – character assassination, liberation struggle violence of the other and symbolic violence.
In this discourse, populist and sensational politics are evident.
The manner in which Cekeshe’s case has been profiled and the public declaration from some Cabinet ministers illustrates selective amnesia as that has not been the case with the two other cases cited above.
This also echoes arrogance of power.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of a democratic South Africa.
One would have thought that by now no former activist or member of the liberation army would still be in jail, and that the tension between the Roman/Dutch law and the indigenous African law would have been seriously attended to.
South Africa is a free country, but has not done away with colonialism and coloniality.
The post-apartheid government does not bring about the death of the two pointers and complete discontinuance of colonial and apartheid conduct towards the African royalties and liberation organisations.
It is also in this context that normalisation of the abnormality in the execution of the presidential pardon can be understood.
Luvuyo Dondolo is a historian and former Fulbright Scholar at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania. He is the director of the Centre for Transdisciplinary Studies at University of Fort Hare
How can policy change to better align Roman/Dutch law with African customary law?
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