#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.
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.
We asked for free education and they said we'd get it....what didn't tell us is that it wasn't really free, we would pay for it.— Bridgette Dabula (@MaZuluBB) February 22, 2018
The so-called free education for the poor will be funded by the poor. Highway robbery! It is the ANC govt that has facilitated siphoning of R100bn to Gubtas through SOE's. Trust them at ur own peril. https://t.co/9Kpko06kN7 pic.twitter.com/RniTnUVzjR— Bantu Holomisa (@BantuHolomisa) February 21, 2018
Jacob Zuma remains the champion of Free education. Hate him with all but this man forced this ANC policy to be implemented #BudgetSpeech2018— NOBUHLE NEGEZA LENSI (@nobuhlenegeza) February 21, 2018
The implementation of #FreeEducation comes with consequences, now the poor and working class have to pay more into #VAT as it increases.— My Name is Chris 🇿🇦 (@Christos_Fanuel) February 22, 2018
The budget of service delivery is affected.
Africans let's stop demanding free things, and start working hard.#BudgetSpeech2018
To the '#FeesMustFall and we will just ignore the consequence' brigade, you see that VAT increase? Yip, the money for that "free" education has to come from somewhere. Thank them and #Zuma, #SouthAfrica.#BudgetSpeech2018 #Budget2018— I am an African 🇿🇦 (@Clint_ZA) February 21, 2018
Free education remains the legacy of Jacob Zuma— Thami (@DavidMilis) February 16, 2018