NEWS
22/02/2018 13:33 SAST | Updated 22/02/2018 13:41 SAST

#RhodesMustFall Protester 'Wanted To Cry' After Free Education Budget Announcement

"People thought that we were stupid; we don't know what we want. Now the very same people are celebrating free education."

A student hits the statue of Cecil John Rhodes with a stick as it is removed from the University of Cape Town (UCT), April 9, 2015.
Mike Hutchings / Reuters
A student hits the statue of Cecil John Rhodes with a stick as it is removed from the University of Cape Town (UCT), April 9, 2015.

#FeesMustFall activist and notorious University of Cape Town (UCT) faeces-thrower Chumani Maxwele told HuffPost that he was "very happy" about Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba's financial plan for free education in his Budget speech on Wednesday.

"In fact, I wanted to cry when I heard the emphasis by minister Malusi Gigaba, re-emphasising the position of [former president Jacob Zuma]," he said.

Maxwele ignited the #RhodesMustFall movement by throwing human excrement at a statue of Cecil John Rhodes on the UCT campus in 2015. He was also part of the #FeesMustFall movement.

"People thought that we were stupid; we don't know what we want. Now the very same people are celebrating free education," he said.

He said although it was hard for activists to get attention from the government, they were always optimistic that free education would be realised in their lifetimes.

"We always knew that we have to pay a price for whatever we believe in. We knew the humiliation we were going through as black students – of not having food, of not having accommodation and being rejected by universities because you can't pay R5,000 of registration fees".

He hails Zuma for making what he called a "bold step forward".

"If Zuma did not announce free education last December, I doubt if it [would] have been announced [after] his presidency."

"We joined the struggle for free education [and] we finished it. We finally realise that free education was announced in our lifetime."

He disagreed with criticism that the poor are now paying for free education indirectly through higher taxes. The finance minister on Wednesday announced major tax spikes, including a one percentage point VAT increase.

Maxwele does not understand the outrage over the VAT increase.

"People must not be simplistic in their approach [to] this VAT issue. People have already been [paying] 14 percent VAT and no one was talking. Now just because of the increment, now people want to talk," he said.

He says what is important is that people will be able to funded regardless of their financial standing.

"[Students] will get a degree, and then they can be able to contribute to the taxing of this country; that is all we want. There are no people who want to beg for their livelihood. People want to get degrees and diplomas, so they can participate in the economy," he said. "We joined the struggle for free education [and] we finished it. We finally realise that free education was announced in our lifetime," he said.

Bittersweet

Advocacy group Equal Education says while it welcomes the investment in higher education and training, it is "extremely unhappy about the downward revision made to the basic education budget".

Gigaba allocated R246.8-billion towards basic education.

"It is therefore distressing that this desperately needed investment in higher education is at the expense of the basic education system. The needs of poor, black students have been pitted against those of poor, black learners," the organisation's Philile Ntombela-Masson said.

Equal Education also criticised the VAT increase, deeming it a regressive tax that will further cripple the poor financially.

People also weighed in on the matter on social media.