#FeesMustFall: ‘It was emotionally, psychologically and physically draining’

Chumani Maxwele was suspended three times and expelled twice from UCT for his involvement in the protests

12 October 2020 - 08:27
Student activist Chumani Maxwele, with his shirt off, during the Fees Must Fall protests at UCT.
DRUMMING UP SUPPORT Student activist Chumani Maxwele, with his shirt off, during the Fees Must Fall protests at UCT.
Image: Supplied

Memories of the rolling #FeesMustFall protests that erupted at South African universities five years ago are still vivid for former student activist Chumani Maxwele.

If he was not dodging campus security personnel at the University of Cape Town (UCT), he was litigating against the institution in the high court. Pictures of a shirtless Maxwele made headline news at the time.

“My experience at UCT was of suffering and black pain,” he said.

PODCAST | The ‘hijacking’ of #FeesMustFall: Fasiha Hassan’s story

Subscribe for free: iono.fm | Spotify | Apple Podcasts | Pocket Casts | Player.fm

“This happened pre-Rhodes Must Fall and during Rhodes Must Fall. Pre-Rhodes Must Fall in the sense that I, as a black student, was made to feel as if I did not belong at UCT. This came from within the lecture halls or during public symposia at UCT.

“I was suspended and expelled for my political protest that led to Rhodes Must Fall and #FeesMustFall at UCT. I was suspended more than three times and expelled twice. All these times I took my cases to the Cape high court and won. One of my expulsion cases went as far as Constitutional Court. All these experiences were emotionally, psychologically and physically draining.” 

I am hopeful that, one day, my children will have a great opportunity for education.
Chumani Maxwele

Maxwele is now pursuing his master’s degree in political science at the institution.

“I am the founding member and national organiser of Black People’s National Crisis Committee and international organiser of #RhodesMustFall, working on an international campaign for the removal of [Cecil] Rhodes’ statue at Oxford University and in South African cities, such as Cape Town,” he said.

“I am also a community facilitator and stakeholder relations manager working with communities and the higher education sector nationally.”

The nationwide Fees Must Fall protests began around this time five years ago. It has been a journey of trauma, sacrifice and hardship according to those who were a part of the revolution. TimesLIVE sat down with FMF activists to reflect on what has changed in the fight for free, decolonised and quality education.

Maxwele said he does not have student debt, thanks to scholarships and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). He believes the #FeesMustFall protests were a turning point for higher education in SA.

“I am hopeful that, one day, my children will have a great opportunity for education,” he said.

“This is why I am working very hard to assist the state in building strong academic institutions, as well as financial institutions that are focused on financing higher education in SA. I have no doubt that higher education in SA will change for the better.”

Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

X