President Cyril Ramaphosa cannot intervene in prosecutorial processes anybody arrested during #FeesMustFall protests, Justice Minister Michael Masutha told protesters outside Parliament on Wednesday.
"That would be against the Constitution," Masutha told about 100 people picketing while the president answered questions inside.
Masutha said that Ramaphosa could not fetch their memorandum in person because he was in the National Assembly answering questions, which is also a constitutional duty. Earlier he had been chairing Cabinet where "important decisions were being taken for the country" but he had asked Masutha to go out to meet them.
This is because applications for presidential pardons are made through the Justice Department and are then finalised by the president.
"So I'm the right person to receive any such applications and to advise the president on those kind of matters."
He said they would be "more than happy" to help people who approached their offices.
"We can advise them on the technical process that needs to be followed so that their applications are in order.
Masutha said that his department would also assist anybody still facing charges with Legal Aid, which includes sometimes being able to appoint lawyers from private firms at no cost to the accused. He said the president could not personally stop charges because that would be interfering with justice, so representations could also be made to the National Director of Public Prosecutions.
This was met with groans by some people participating in the gathering because some students had had their representations turned down.
Masutha leaned on the back of Sihle Lonzi to sign the memorandum. Lonzi was among a small group of Cape Town-based students who had charges withdrawn with the help of their lawyer Lufuno Musetsho. They had completed a period of community service and the Wynberg Regional Court withdrew the charges against them.
A number of people still facing charges said the government had pumped money into the National Students Financial Aid Scheme to make education free for more students, but those who were arrested while demanding this, face being branded criminals and would not be able to get a job.
Former Wits Students Representative Council President Mcebo Dlamini said it was unfair that they had to keep going back and forth to court and hire laywers. He said some had plead to crimes they do not think they were guilty of but could not afford a lawyer. He added he had run up a bill of R1.2m so far.
"We expect that the government will understand that black agenda. We don't need to remind people who were in the liberation movement, the purpose of the liberation movement," he said at the gates to Parliament.
Asemahle Wulana told News24 that having charges hanging over one's head was stressful and causing depression.
"It's just cases, cases, court cases. It is not a nice thing to wake up the morning and have to go to court," said Wulana, who turned 22 on Wednesday.
Khululwa Mthi from UCT read the demands.
It was addressed to the Speaker of Parliament, Baleka Mbete, and demands amnesty for students and workers facing charges relating to the #FeesMustFall protests.
"We as students, use the word amnesty with reluctance, because the word suggests that there was an offence in which one must be pardoned for," she said.
"We categorically believe that when we decided to protest, it was for a just cause and the violence that ensued as a result was because of the provocation by the police," she said.
Mthi added that the kind of treatment protesters experienced was reminiscent of the apartheid era and was being done under the watch of a black government which claims to be "for the people".
Mthi said Parliament had stressed the crucial role of education, so it would be contradictory to punish those who engage in a struggle to further access to education.
The memorandum also contains a demand for a commission of inquiry into the protests akin to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to find a solution to the problems that emanated from the protests, and how violence could have been curbed.
Among those present were Masixole Mlandu, who was ordered to do community work and go for counseling as part of a diversion programme instead.
T-shirts of various political bodies were seen among the protesters including Economic Freedom Fighters, Black First Land First and the Pan Africanist Student Movement of Azania. Dlamini said that although he was an ANC supporter, the issue of the arrests should be addressed by a united student front.
The protests began in 2015 with the storming of Parliament by a large group demanding free higher education. Last December former president Jacob Zuma announced free education for poor and working class students.