Is Paul-Joseph Mukungubila a politician or a putschist, a real pastor or a dodgy prophet? Is he God, his devotees earnestly ask? Of perhaps just Christ? He himself modestly suggests the latter, describing himself as “God’s last envoy to humanity”. Or is he just another religious charlatan and a phony, one of many on the continent? Maybe he’s all of the above. But, one way or another, DRC President Joseph Kabila seems to regard him as a real threat. By PETER FABRICIUS.
South African President Jacob Zuma is way too sympathetic to his fellow-president’s anxieties, Paul-Joseph Mukungubila’s people say.
In his home country, DRC, Mukungubila founded the “The Ministry of Restoration of Black Africa”, a rather extravagant, revivalist movement, in 1977 and which preached a mixture of religion and politics.
He also dabbled in regular politics. In 2006 he stood against Kabila in the presidential elections. But he was just one of 32 also-rans who didn’t make it to the second round and no one paid much attention to him.
Until 08.30 on Monday 30 December, 2013 when astonished viewers of Le Panier (the Breadbasket) a TV show on DRC’s national broadcaster RTNC, watched a group of youths armed with pangas and sticks storm the studio in the capital Kinshasa during a live transmission.
Le Panier’s two presenters were taken hostage by the men shouting orders in the local Lingala language “and at one stage, a vuvuzela incongruously appeared on the set”, France 24 reported. A voice off-camera proclaimed in Lingala, “Gideon Mukungubila has come to free you from the slavery of the Rwandan”, the report continued. Then the signal was abruptly cut.
“Gideon” is another of Mukungubila’s first names. “The Rwandan” referred to President Joseph Kabila. Mukungubila claims that Kabila is not a Congolese but is in fact really a Rwandan, his South African spokesman Charlie Mingiedi explains.
He’s also not the son, as he claims, of the late President Laurent Kabila, whom he succeeded when he was assassinated in 2001.
As proof Mingiedi shows a photograph, on his phone, taken some time in the mid-1990s of Joseph Kabila supposedly wearing a Rwandan army uniform when he was one of the Rwandan defence minister’s guards.
These allegations about Joseph Kabila’s ancestry are familiar and date back to the decisive military support Rwanda gave to Laurent Kabila to topple the long-time kleptocratic dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997. A year later Kabila senior expelled his Rwandan advisers because they were being too bossy, provoking a war with Rwanda – which sucked in several other African armies – and permanent tensions and occasional clashes between the two countries. So Mukungubila is rather out on a political limb when he insists that Joseph Kabila is still today a front man for Rwandan President Paul Kagame and has allowed the Rwandans effectively to take over the running of DRC.
His protests/attempted coup on December 30, 2013 was provoked by Kabila’s recent signing of a peace deal with the M23 rebels in the east of the country who had been backed by Kigali.
The invasion of the RTNC studio on December 30 triggered fierce gun-battles involving the government army, police and presidential guard first there and then soon after near Kinshasa’s Ndjili national airport and an army base, in Mukungubila’s hometown of Lubumbashi in Katanga province and in the towns of Kindu, Kisangani and Kolwezi to the south and east.
The government later that day announced that several strategic sites had been attacked but the army was restoring control. It eventually announced a death toll of 103, eight of them government soldiers and many more injured and arrested.
Mingiedi insists that the deaths were purely the result of the government’s brutal suppression of what he claims were peaceful protests after soldiers attacked Mukungubila’s Lubumbashi home. Others suggest instead this was a foiled coup.
Mukungubila fled to South Africa a week later, with five of his 18 wives, and 12 of his 19 children, according to South African court records. On March 5, 2014 he applied for asylum. On June 30 the Refugee Status Determination Officer rejected his application. He appealed to the Refugee Appeal Board (RAB) which dismissed his appeal on August 21.
Meanwhile, according to the North Gauteng High Court, on May 5, 2014 the Minister of Justice issued a notice that Mukungubila should be extradited to the DRC which had asked Pretoria to send him back to face charges of murder, “international aggravated assault”, malicious destruction and “arbitrary and illegal detention.”
This was clearly also the understanding of the Department of Home Affairs which repeated this account in a statement on April 18 this year.
But deputy minister of Justice John Jeffery told Daily Maverick this week that this was wrong. He said his government had not yet made a decision to extradite Mukungubila and that the minister had merely initiated an administrative inquiry by a magistrate to determine if he should be extradited, as required by law.
He was duly arrested on May 15, pending the outcome of this inquiry.
Mukungubila then launched two legal challenges, one in the South Gauteng (Johannesburg) High Court for the suspension of the extradition proceedings and another in the North Gauteng (Pretoria) High Court, asking the court to overturn the RAB’s decision not to grant him asylum.
On 13 March this year, the South Gauteng High Court ordered that the government should suspend extradition proceedings again Mukungubila, pending finalisation of his asylum application.
And on March 30 the North Gauteng High Court issued a scathing judgment which blasted the RAB and the Minister and Department of Home Affairs for incompetence – and possibly bias – and granted Mukungubila asylum.
In his judgment Judge MJ Mululeke appeared to endorse Mukungubila’s claim that the executive arm of government – through the minister and department of Home Affairs – had unlawfully interfered in the decision of RAB, which is supposed to be objective and independent body, in a co-ordinated effort “to work together to achieve the refusal of asylum and the ultimate deportation and extradition” of Mukungubila.
Judge Mululeke said it was “clear from the evidence that all kinds of tactics and stumbling blocks have been deployed at every possible avenue that the Applicant (Mukungubila) explored to enforce and protect his rights”.
The judge added that neither the RAB nor the minister or department of Home Affairs had offered the court any evidence to refute Mukungubila’s claim that he would be persecuted by the DRC government if he was extradited.
On the basis of these circumstances he took what he called was the “exceptional” decision to grant Mukungubila asylum himself, rather than refer the back to the RAB, suggesting this was because the board was so biased that referring it back would produce a “foregone conclusion”.
Mingiedi hailed Judge Mululeke’s decision to grant his boss asylum, saying, “It is a relief. He can now once again involve himself in political life.”
But the Department of Home Affairs has applied for leave to appeal the decisions of both courts, so Mukungubila remains stuck in South Africa, his travel documents impounded, unable to travel to other countries to canvas support from other Congolese diasporas as he wants to, pending the outcome of the appeals.
If the North Gauteng High Court merely hinted in that direction, Mingiedi openly and angrily accuses Pretoria of conniving with the DRC government because he says “Zuma and Kabila are like this”, twining his forefinger and middle finger.
He says the Zuma administration is protecting Kabila, including by failing to criticise his decision to cling to power last December after his constitutionally limited two terms expired.
It has been suggested that Zuma may even be protecting family commercial interests, including the oil concessions which Kabila gave his nephew Khulubuse Zuma, allegedly at President Zuma’s behest.
Jeffery flatly denied that there is any conspiracy between the two governments in the Mukungubila case. The government is following an automatic administrative process in launching the inquiry into whether or not Mukungubila should be extradited, he says. If higher courts reject the Department of Home Affairs’ appeal against the North Gauteng High Court’s decision to grant asylum to Mukungubila, he will get asylum. If the department’s appeal succeeds and its appeal against the South Gauteng High Court’s decision also succeeds, the inquiry into whether Mukungubila should be extradited will resume.
But is Judge Mululeke right in suggesting the South African government has failed to consider the implications of sending Mukungubila back to DRC?
Politics are always very murky in DRC, but Stephanie Wolters, a DRC expert at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, says she believes that Mukungubila’s followers did in fact attack the heavily guarded national broadcaster and other state institutions on December 30, 2013 and so committed a crime.
But she also doubts whether he would receive proper justice if he were sent home, noting how many opposition politicians Kabila’s government has simply thrown into jail, without due process.
The League of Electors, a Congolese human rights NGO, and the Federation of International Human Rights, (FIDH) based in France, investigated the incidents of December 30 and concluded in their report of May 2014 that though the cause of the violence was murky, the DRC security forces had in any case “perpetrated grave violations of human rights” in bloodily suppressing Mukungubila’s followers.
It said the final official death toll of 103 “fell far short of reality” and that most of Mukungubila’s followers who died had been “summarily executed”. Many others had been arrested without being charged and had been tortured in jail and others had been “disappeared”. It called on the DRC government to launch an independent inquiry into the incident, to release all detainees and to exhume the bodies in a mass grave at Lubumbashi allegedly of victims of the December 30 violence.
It also urged neighbouring governments to grant refugee status to Mukungubila’s followers.
One hopes Pretoria has read this report. DM
Photo: Paul-Joseph Mukungubila (via Twitter)
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