A group of Congolese men charged with planning a coup against the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo appeared in court again on Thursday. Tensions rose as Congolese expatriates who gathered at the court made clear their dissatisfaction with South Africa’s policy on the DRC. By DE WET POTGIETER.
A protest march by a group of Congolese dissidents, from the Pretoria Magistrates Court to the embassy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in Pretoria, turned ugly on Thursday morning when a man was attacked in front of the embassy building by angry protestors. One of the protestors was later arrested and taken away by the police. The attacked man was visiting the embassy to apply for a visa.
The highly charged march through the streets of Pretoria, which severely disrupted traffic, started soon after the ringleader of the alleged plot to topple DRC President Joseph Kabila, Etienne Kabila Taratibu, appeared with the rest of the Congolese rebels as accused number 20.
As the group marched down the street chanting, “Death to Zuma, death to Kabila,” a strong contingent of police officers caught off guard rushed from the court building to take control of the proceedings, forcing the group off Schoeman Street and onto the sidewalk.
When the court proceedings began on Thursday morning, state prosecutor Shaun Abrahams asked Regional Magistrate Maryke de la Rey for a final postponement until 27 February for the state to prepare its case in the bail application.
Before court proceedings started, the police had to order the large group of noisy Congolese dissidents from the court building. Only family members were allowed into the courtroom.
The group of Congolese expatriates walked all the way from the court building to the embassy, which is situated in Arcadia. Nobody from the embassy staff dared to come out and address the angry crowd. Two very worried security guards from a private firm watched the proceedings from behind the wall.
The police eventually told the group it was regarded as an illegal gathering and gave them time to disperse peacefully. The man who was attacked by several of the Congolese told the Daily Maverick one of them had started talking to him. As he walked away he talked to a group of men and the following moment they became aggressive and attacked him.
“I do not know why they did it,” he said. I am here to get a visa, that’s all.” He declined to give his name for fear of reprisals. Earlier the expatriates were at times locked in heated conversations and it was clear that there were people with conflicting political views within the crowd.
Kabila Taratibu, who lives in Cape Town, handed himself over to the police in Bellville last Saturday.
Emotions ran high within the 300,000-strong Congolese exile communities in South Africa last weekend as news spread that Taratibu was also in custody.
“He is the mastermind. We have been observing these guys. We have a list of individuals and their names,” a spokesman for the Hawks told Reuters.
Still on the run is Major General William Amuri Yakutumba, said to be the military leader who founded the politico-military movement Mai-Mai Yakutumba in 2007, in the Fizi territory, the southern part of South Kivu. (This is the same area where Ché Guevara once unsuccessfully tried to spark a revolution in the 1960s.)
Congolese expatriates in South Africa have reacted strongly to the arrests, with insults being hurled in all directions. Some singled out President Jacob Zuma, criticising him for protecting South African interests in the DRC above the human rights of that country’s citizens.
Meanwhile, it is unclear whether Yakutumba is still in South Africa.
His Mai Yakutumba movement was created by dissidents from war-era armed factions that were opposed to participating in the process of army integration during the transition between 2003 and 2006. Yakutumba, at the time a battalion commander with the rank of captain, declared that he refused to re-deploy his troops from Fizi territory, as long as troops from the Banyamulenge community did not disarm or send their troops away for army integration.
According to Judith Verweijen, writing in Congo Siasa, the political wing of the movement is called Parti pour l’Action et la Reconstruction du Congo (Parc), and is headed by Raphael Looba Undji. She cautions, “Contrary to popular images of the Mai [Yakatumba] as uncivilised ‘bush warriors’, both these leaders are university-educated intellectuals.”
Verweijen stresses that supporters of the Mai Mai Yakutumba consider the regime of Kabila Jnr to be complicit with the Rwandophones and their plan to “Balkanise” the DRC, backed by resource-hungry imperialist powers.
Although it is apparent that the ongoing conflict in the DRC has spawned shady business deals, Kabila himself has not been directly implicated in any. Not yet, anyway. Many of the Congolese expatriates venting their anger at the South African government, however, feel the arrest of the rebel suspects is another example of the South African government using its might to protect the rule of its ally, Joseph Kabila. DM
- Congo rebels, a Kabila family affair? in Daily Maverick
- Congolese crisis comes knocking at South Africa’s door, in Daily Maverick
Photo: Congolese rebelled outside the court (De Wet Pretorius)