The student who ripped into Helen Zille

Do not touch me

This video titled ‘Do not touch me!’ went viral during the recent #FeesMustFall protests at Stellenbosch University.  In three short minutes, this student told Premier Helen Zille why she was outraged by the fee increment.

Who was this student?  What sparked this heated exchange?

The Journalist tracked her down. She is Chumani Mtshixa, a 2nd year BA Social Dynamics student at Stellenbosch University.  She is a poet, writer and producer, born and bred in Khayelitsha on the Cape Flats.

Chuma, as she is popularly known, joined the #FeesMustFall protest after seeing a video of a student who was almost knocked over by a 4×4. The video was doing the rounds on social media.

Meeting Helen Zille

On Friday, 23 October, Chuma and her fellow student protesters found out that Zille had arrived at the Coetzenburg stadium owned by Stellenbosch University. She had come to attend a function organised for local government officials. According to Chuma they went there with the intention to speak to the Premier and request her to plead their case to university management.

Chuma M2

“We did not understand why they were having fun in the middle of our protests…we managed to get her into a hall where we spoke to her as a collective,” she said. “She asked to be excused to go to the toilet while we were talking to her. She stepped out and was accompanied by other female government officials. A few of us decided to tag along.”

While they were at the toilets Chuma said that she overheard Zille’s conversation with fellow officials.

“She started complaining [to them] about the size of the toilet as she went in. She mentioned how small it was, asking how people use it. In the end she laughed and said that it’s for students anyway,” Chuma claimed.

Chuma allegedly overheard this and did not find humour in the joke.

“As a person who uses the bucket system you can’t complain about the size of a toilet. I didn’t think it funny,” she said. “I started talking to her after she came out. This is when I asked her how can she be shocked about the size of the toilet while she subjects people to the bucket system.”

The video was captured shortly after this. Chuma maintains that she was not aware that their conversation was being filmed.

Do not touch me

During the exchange, Zille attempts to hold Chuma’s hand but her gesture is refused.

Chuma told The Journalist what was going through her mind. “I felt that she knows what is going on. I did not need to be telling her this. Now she was consoling me and touching me,” she said. “I was just like no don’t do that, don’t try to make me keep quiet. I did not feel like it was a genuine gesture or appropriate.”

In the video Chuma shared how she was personally affected by the proposed fee increment. “My mother, a domestic worker in Rondebosch, is one of many parents who could not afford the hike,” she said. “I’m currently studying with NSFAS and another bursary from Stellenbosch University. My mother earns R 2 400 monthly and she already has to bend over backwards to assist me.”

Interestingly in this telephone conversation with The Journalist, she paused and reflected on whether her outburst had been appropriate. In retrospect, she felt the things she had said needed to be said but perhaps more calmly. “I feel I should not have allowed myself to be upset but I think me being upset was understandable,” she said. “It felt like she was spitting in my face because I know what the bucket system is. I use it at home so I had every right to be upset. Maybe I should have controlled it better and not said some of the things in the manner in which I had said them.”

The Journalist contacted the Premier’s spokesperson, Michael Mpofu, for comment.

“I was obviously not present when the Premier asked to be excused for a comfort break. I therefore cannot verify what was said. What I can say is that throughout the process, the Premier willingly engaged the students at their request,” he said. “She even took the opportunity to walk with the students in solidarity. Despite cancelling the scheduled event in Stellenbosch, the Premier thought it appropriate to listen to the students than proceed with it, in any case. Just to clarify, the Premier is currently abroad in China, so I am unable to engage her on this at present.”

More than just the drama of this moment which the camera captured, our interview glimpsed briefly into the world of this young student. Chuma is a former pupil of Masibambisane High School in Delft. Her first production, Broken Radio, received a nomination for Best Newcomer in Direction category at the 2015 Baxter Theatre Zabalaza Theatre Awards.

Mtshixa and Zille have not had another exchange or interaction since.

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