Cape Town - UCT student activist Chumani Maxwele has come under fire after pictures went viral of him in a tussle with a feminist student during a protest, as members of the Fees Must Fall (FMF) movement fought each other.
FMF member Thenjiwe Mswane said she had been assaulted when she attempted to disrupt a protest by other members of the movement at Wits University on Monday. She says she was surrounded by men, kicked, punched and dragged away from the protest.
She said political parties had hijacked the protest, and had excluded feminist and queer members. In pictures, protesters are seen wearing EFF and PASMA clothing.
Maxwele has denied the allegations.
During the protest several classes were disrupted and a fire was started in a lecture venue. The university has since issued five suspension orders and all non-Wits members identified who were involved have been barred from the campus.
Additional security has also been deployed.
Mswane said she was told by a protester that feminists and the queer community were not to be involved in the FMF protests, after a meeting to discuss the way forward for FMF was held at the weekend which excluded them.
Using a sjambok, she disrupted the protesters by hitting the floor with it and shouting, making reference to what she alleged was a sexual assault of a female student.
‘‘We didn’t know on whose mandate they were doing this (protesting). It is clear that there were no queer or feminist bodies present,” Mswane said.
“This does not discredit the movement. We are recognising the influence of politics and the infiltration of some form of political agenda using student bodies,” she said.
She said footage was being collected to decide if legal action should be taken against those who allegedly assaulted her.
Maxwele has denied he assaulted Mswane at the protest. He said the group of protesters had become agitated by her disruption.
“We have a principle of not stopping other people who are protesting.
“Some people got angry and tried to hold her sjambok. I was trying to stop them from pulling her. This is a smear campaign. We don’t condone any violence,” he said.
He said footage would emerge showing what had happened.
Maxwele also denied the weekend meeting on the FMF was private or infiltrated by political parties.
The Wits FMF collective said in a statement the plan to shut down the campus had been discussed at a private symposium at the weekend.
“The symposium, facilitated through external funders who seek to infiltrate the movement, and the employ of what we suspect to be non-Wits students and members of the public, is one we do not recognise and refuse to be held hostage by its political dictates and ambitions,” they said.
They said the assault of feminist and queer students would not be tolerated.
RMF member Mohammed Abdulla said tension escalated after the Rhodes Must Fall exhibition, “Echoing Voices from Within”, was disrupted by members of UCT’s Trans Collective, a student organisation that advocated the rights of transgender, gender non-conforming and intersex students at UCT.
“This is an opportunity to call out partisanship within the movement. If we can come together and expel it from the movement, we can move forward stronger than before,” Abdulla said.
UCT’s Wanelisa Xaba, founder of student movement South African Young Feminist Activist, said: “The feminist community is outraged. This is not an isolated incident. Homophobia and transphobia has been prevalent in the FMF and Rhodes Must Fall movement.
“We are seen as derailing the movement when we call it out. The history of black radical action is designed to silence women. It won’t work because we built the movement. We built the foundation of the movement.”