'Pangas, pepper spray' at Congolese protest in Pretoria
20 December 2016
Cape Town - Several Congolese nationals have been arrested after an anti-government protest in front of the Democratic Republic of the Congo embassy in Pretoria turned violent on Tuesday.
Police fired several rounds of rubber bullets and stun grenades after protesters started pelting the embassy with large stones and plastic yellow and black parking barriers and shouting "Kabila must go!".
Their protest was part of two days of action in the DRC and in front of the country’s embassies worldwide against DRC president Joseph Kabila, whose term of office expired on Monday.
One of the protesters repeatedly threatened: "We will burn down the embassy". He was later arrested on suspicion of having been part of a group alleged by police to have snatched an officer’s handgun.
Police eventually dispersed the 100 or so protesters that had gathered, but some of the group’s leaders said they wouldn’t budge.
Aime Malumba, from the South African branch of the opposition coalition Rassop, said they would stay in front of the embassy until Kabila stepped down.
"The mandate of Kabila is over. Even if an administration rules the country, they must put in new ambassadors. We came to express our anger in a peaceful way but they are repressing people with live bullets and teargas," he said.
Malumba admitted they did not have permission from the police to protest.
'People are shot all the time in DRC'
A sign handwritten on an A4 sheet of paper advised visitors that the embassy was closed until January 4.
At least two protesters needed medical help after being hit by rubber bullets, while others showed marks of having been hit by several bullets while only laughing it off.
"People are being shot dead all the time in the Congo. This is nothing," one of the protesters said.
A small crowd also taunted the police earlier when they weren’t allowed to come close to the embassy. They shouted: "If you want to Marikana us, we don’t care", in reference to police brutality in 2012 when several miners were gunned down.
Police had been guarding the embassy since Monday with police vehicles and nyalas after rumours of protest, but had to call in reinforcements – also from metro police – as things escalated just before noon on Tuesday. A water cannon was also brought in later as a precaution.
There was no police spokesperson on the scene but it is understood that those arrested were either taken to Sunnyside or Brooklyn police stations.
One of the police officers was trying to recover from what was claimed to have been pepper spray brought by the protesters, while the protesters in turn accused the police of firing teargas.
There were also fears by police that the protesters would use plastic water and cold drink bottles with flammable liquids to set fire to the embassy, and there were some initial scuffles when the police confiscated these bottles.
It is also claimed that at least two pangas were found hidden in nearby bushes.
Police suspected that protesters threw the handgun alleged to have been stolen, over a fence into the grounds of a nearby school, and dogs were brought in to help with the search.
By the time of writing the handgun hadn’t been found.
Shortly before 14:00 police reopened two lanes of Frances Bard Street after closing it off due to the protests, but they kept their guard high, fearing that some protesters would regroup and then return.
Protesters arrived in about three or four buses, some from Yeoville in Johannesburg.
Protests by critics of Kabila came about after talks last week facilitated by the Catholic Church had failed. Kabila’s supporters said his stepping down now would created a power vacuum, but they said elections could only be held by April 2018 because the electoral commission needed to do a census of all eligible voters.
South Africa had been quiet about recent developments in the DRC, and Department of International Relations spokesperson Clayson Monyela said he stood by the department’s September press release.
In it President Jacob Zuma expressed concern about the "violent incidences" that took place when opposition supporters burnt police officers in retaliation for dozens of protesters being killed.
"These incidences threaten the hard-won democratic gains made by the DRC through the past two elections."
South Africa was one of the countries that assisted the DRC in negotiating and organising the country’s first democratic elections in 2006.
This article first appeared on News24, see here.