By Gael Masengi
The South African police have arrested 19 alleged suspected Congolese whom they call “rebels” on suspicion of running an illegal military operation, the raid conducted by a special division of SAPS in the early hours of Tuesday came as result of “months long investigation” by the crime intelligent unit, police said.
|A supporter holds DR. Congo flag outside the court in Pretoria|
The National Prosecuting Authority of SA (NPA) accuses the group of plotting to topple the current Congolese government, alleging that the band has offered mineral rights in exchange of weapons and assistance from [South African] mercenaries in overthrowing Joseph Kabila. Among the 19 suspects, the NPA said a man simply identified as James Kazongo is believed to have US citizenship, a claim confirmed by the United States Embassy spokesperson. Belonging to an unheard organization called the “Union of Nationalists of Renewal”, the men allegedly sent a wish list asking for machine guns, radio, grenades and even surface-to-air missiles and arranged for a training camp, prosecutor Shaun Abrahams told magistrate judge at a court hearing in Pretoria. Abrahams alleged that the plot apparently led by a man who claims to be the eldest son of Congo’s assassinated President Laurent Kabila posed a “serious danger” to the stability of a nation long engulf by conflict. The men wanted to “wage a full-scale war” in mineral-rich eastern Congo, Abrahams said, that the accused was planning to tack back the DRC by coup and conventional warfare.
While the African Union Commission chairwoman, South Africa’s Dr. Nkosazana-Dlamini Zuma welcomed the arrest of alleged would-be putschists, saying that “According to the AU principles, we do not tolerate unconstitutional change of government. We do not tolerate coups. People must get to government through a democratic process of election.” However on social networks the majority of South African public seem to think it is comprehensible for a frustrated people to do whatever it takes to unseat an oppressive regime, arguing that if true this movement can be related to MK (umkhonto we Sizwe) an armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC) which fought against the Apartheid government.
Several members of Congolese community in Johannesburg Gael-On-Media approached for comments downplayed the entire claims as false calling it “baseless” and “vague”; unanimously they say it is undoubtedly a witch hunt the ANC-led government have been conducting against Congolese of opposition factions exiled in South Africa since the controversial 2011 presidential elections. A feeling also echoed by a military expert, who asked not to be named, he thinks it is a propaganda which Zuma’s government has orchestrated in bid to silence anti-Kabila activists operating in his soil. He went on to compare the scenario to the 2004 Equatorial Guinea coup d’état (a.k.a. the Wonga Coup) attempt which was planned in South Africa with the help of big oil firms and numerous European governments in order to replace president Teodoro Obiang Nguema with exiled opposition politician Severo Moto, the military intel said details are sketchy. “Unlike the Wonga coup which you had all the incriminating proof that really was intended to do the job,” he said “here the authority is changing versions and lacking concrete proof, after linking them to M23, then retract the claim, this is a cheap bulls*#t propaganda which is going to back fire at them”. The alleged suspects have all denied any ties whatsoever with the Rwanda-backed M23 rebellion as the NPA earlier alleged.
“Those people are not rebels as the [SA] government is painting them”, said an angry Congolese outside court in Pretoria “Among them, they are next door young men whom I know personally; they wouldn’t even kill a cat!”
|Congolese protester outside a Johannesburg court|
“This isn’t the first time we are being targeted by Zuma’s people who are determined to shut us up,” said another Congolese on Thursday’s hearing “precisely a year ago 200 of our people were beaten then illegally arrested by Zuma’s private army [SAPS] on a trumped-up charges for denouncing South Africa’s involvement on vote rigging in the DRC.”
Much details of the raid remain unclear; though the police said the 19 men were arrested in northern province of Limpompo while they were en route to what they believed would be a paramilitary training camp to prepare for their armed attack in the Congo, said the NPA. Their cover, Abrahams said, was to pretend to be training as game rangers to fight the unchecked poaching of rhinos in South Africa.
The men will be tried under South Africa’s Foreign Military Assistance act, which bars people from plotting coups or mercenary activities in foreign nations. The 19 suspects are scheduled to appear in court on February 14th on bail hearing.
Gael-On-Media is following closely this story and will bring you more as it happens.