6 people arrested outside Parliament during a university fee protest will not face treason charges, according to a lawyer representing two of them.
Kevin French, Markus Trengove, Nathan Taylor, Chumani Maxwele, Kgotsi Chikane and Lindsay Maasdorp, were arrested outside Parliament on Wednesday when students forced their way into the precinct during a sitting for Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene’s mid-term budget speech.
The lawyer, speaking to families of the six outside the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court, said treason charges, rumours of which had circulated Thursday morning, had been dropped.
The six are expected to appear in the court, along with 23 University of Cape Town (UCT) students arrested on Tuesday,
Lawyer Bruce Hendricks, representing Kevin French and Markus Trengrove, told News24 the treason charges had been dropped, with the six now facing charges of trespassing in terms of the National Key Points Act and contravening the Gatherings Act, by not getting permission to gather.
Popo Mfubu, representing Chikane, who is the son of African National Congress stalwart Frank Chikane, said the treason charge was on the charge sheet at the time lawyers looked at it on Wednesday and that the State should not make it seem like it was not.
Inside court, there was a heavy police presence, with officers in public order gear posted at almost every entrance.
Students from UCT and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), who had come in support of both the 23 and the six, filled up the street outside the court, where they were singing loudly.
Student Andile Saunders shouted through a megaphone that they would never accept a fee increase, with another stating “Our maximum increase is zero”.
The courtroom itself was full, with media presently not allowed in.
Earlier on Thursday, the Hawks strongly denied the six were to be charged with treason. They would face charges of trespassing and contravening the Gatherings Act.
Regarding the other 23 students, their lawyer Ashref Mahomed said they would face charges of participating in an illegal gathering and, possibly, public violence.
He later told his clients they would be granted free bail, though in court authorities were still trying to find space for them.
Students sing outside court
Prior to their appearance, expected to begin around 11:00, police began gathering outside the court where the 23 plus the six arrested on Wednesday were expected to appear.
A News24 journalist on her way to court passed Parliament where half of one of the two gates forced open by students on Wednesday afternoon remained open.
It appeared a small team was working on a box at the security boom behind the gate.
Outside the court, students from UCT and CPUT sang “Senzeni na?” (“What have we done”).
Sometimes giggling, as they harmonised and added rap interludes about their situation, supporters outside court were in good spirits.
There were lively debates about fees, with one student representative council leader pointing at police keeping watch at court and stating “Their job is to protect us”.
Later, someone attempted to start a chant of “fuck the police” but got no support.
The arrests of the 23 on Tuesday and six on Wednesday come amid unprecedented student demonstrations across South Africa against rising university fees.
The demonstrations were sparked last week by Wits University students, who blockaded the entrance to the Johannesburg university’s campus after the institution indicated it would raise fees by 10.5% for 2016.
Demonstrations later spread to Rhodes University, Stellenbosch University, UCT, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, the University of Pretoria, the University of the Free State, the University of Limpopo, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Tshwane University of Technology, including its campus in Mbombela, CPUT, and the University of Fort Hare.