Tshwane University of Technology’s former SRC leader, Sthembiso Mbatha, has expressed relief after being cleared of criminal charges emanating from the #FeesMustFall protests.
He described the process of clearing his name since being charged in 2017 as emotionally daunting, adding that having a criminal record made it impossible to find work.
“It affected me so much. I would apply for over 20 jobs a day and not even get called to a single interview. I kept on wondering why – because I had the qualification, leadership skills and a bit of experience – only to be told that I cannot be hired because I have a criminal record,” said Mbatha.
He was facing charges of public violence, assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm and defeating the ends of justice – charges that have now been officially cleared.
“I was really jubilant after receiving the clearance certificate. I had been trying to clear my name for two years now,” he said.
Recalling his first and only encounter with the police, Mbatha said during his tenure at TUT he led a protest. A few days later, he was called by police, along with three other friends.
“We were asked to co-operate and assist with an investigation police were doing. We got asked a few questions, which we answered without hesitation. We were asked to fill in a couple of forms and they took our fingerprints. I think that’s when we were charged,” he said.
Mbatha said he and his friends were told that they would be contacted should there be any reason for them to be arrested or questioned further.
“I knew I had never done anything wrong. Everything that I did during the protest was in the confines of the law, so I did not worry about it,” he told TimesLIVE.
Mbatha, who was born in Ulundi in KwaZulu-Natal, said it was always his dream to finish his studies and support his family. He graduated with his BTech in journalism and is currently enrolled for a master’s degree.
“I come from a big family. I have six siblings and we were raised by a single mother. So this thing was not just affecting me but my family as well,” he said.
While Mbatha was beaming with joy after receiving a clearance certificate, he said there was still silence surrounding several other students charged during the protests.
“It’s unfortunate because people who spoke out and put their bodies on the line during the protests are now left with criminal records some three years down the line. There is just silence, despite that indeed free education was achieved, among other things,” he said.
Mbatha said he believed young people should mobilise and put pressure on the government to pardon students facing charges from the #FeesMustFall protests.