On Wednesday the South African government withdrew all charges against 29 #FeesMustFall protesters, saying that prosecuting them would not be in the public interest.
23 had been arrested on the University of Cape Town (UCT) campus during protests late last year, while 6 others were arrested in the aftermath of an October protest where over 1,000 students broke through the gates of parliament.
Western Cape director of Public Prosecutions Advocate Rodney de Kock said in a statement that the protest at parliament was peaceful, that the demonstrators did not cause damage to property, and that they were protesting against the high cost of higher education. Charges of trespassing of a National Key Point, public violence, and even treason were thus unjustified.
Protests peaked late last year as universities announced fee increases of over 10%, spurring the government to negotiate a fee freeze and compensate universities in part for their projected losses. According to the BBC:
This year’s budget has earmarked contingency funds to extend the freeze on fee increases for a further two years, contribute to student debt relief and provide financial support for currently registered students. But it is not a long-term solution. A place at a public university remains unattainable for a large majority of low and middle income families because, at their current levels fees are still far too high.
On the other hand Graca Machel, UCT chancellor and former first lady, said present-day South Africa cannot afford free university education. She underscored that “it’s about the other millions of children who are in secondary and primary schools, because whilst you institutionalise, you have to keep it forever.”
Free university education might not be feasible for all South African youth, but the current system can and should be improved. Discharging the demonstrators is a show of good faith.