NAMIBIANS and other expatriates working at diamond mines in the northern Lunda Norte province of Angola, where violence broke out in the Cafunfu town over the weekend, are safe and unaffected by the unrest that resulted in the death and injury of several people.
“We are safe. The disturbance happened far away from where we are and it was confined to a specific area, involving only a group of protesters and the law enforcement agents,” said Julius Kamati, a Namibian citizen employed by a South African company contracted by Angola’s state-owned minerals enterprise.
Kamati said that a confrontation between the police and local protesters is not something new in that part of the country.
“What is new is the frightening extent of bloodshed this time around,” he said.
A separatist organization – the Lunda Chokwe Protectorate Movement – has for years clashed with the authorities as it continued to allege the existence of widespread poverty in a very prosperous province, and also demanding autonomy for the “Lunda Chokwe Protectorate,” an extensive geographic area bordering the DRC in the north, Zambia in the east and Namibia in the south.
The movement, which has no legal status, has since December last year advertised its “orderly and peaceful demonstration” on 30 January.
Gunshots were heard immediately after the police and army arrived at the site where about 300 protesters assembled Saturday morning.
The exact number of the dead and the injured is uncertain.
The police say that “four vandals” were killed on the spot while two others succumbed to injury while receiving treatment in the hospital.
One police officer and an army soldier were also injured and a stationary vehicle was damaged.
But other versions put the number of the dead and the injured at 15 and 28 respectively.
The organizers insist that theirs was a peaceful and orderly demonstration.
The police say that it was actually a well prepared “armed insurrection”.
After visiting the scene on Sunday, general police commander Paulo de Almeida said that “the vandals” were armed with weapons of war and were on their way to attack the local police station, to kill police officers, and to remove the national flag and replace it with a flag of their own.
“Our response was timely and the situation is now back to normal,” he said.
However, the organizers described the police and army action as “a premeditated massacre”.
Already on 24 January, the organizers used their website to complain that state security organs, SIC and SINSE, were arresting and torturing activists, accusing them of planning a rebellion: “They allege that we possess weapons of war and that we have a powerful army, perhaps hiding in outer space or in the moon, because it exists nowhere on earth.”
Major opposition parties, UNITA and CASA-CE, are demanded that the matter be discussed in the national assembly as a matter of urgency.
A human rights organization, Omunga, condemned Saturday’s bloodshed and demanded a thorough investigation.
“The Angolan state has once again failed to protect life and human dignity,” said Omunga executive director Joao Malavindele Manuel.
Two Catholic bishops have also issued condemnatory statements.
Archbishop Jose Manuel Imbamba of the Saurimo archbishopric (Lunda Norte, Lunda Sul, and Moxico) condemned the bloodbath and demanded a thorough investigation to ensure that those who acted wrongly are held responsible.
Bishop Tirso Blanco of Luena, Moxico, also chimed in: “What we witnessed was a dose of aggression and death, a blatant disrespect for both the living and the dead.”
He added that Saturday’s incident was the logical consequence of the daily life in the east of Angola where “screams of a suffering people” are ignored. “People see how minerals are extracted and timber is charted away, but they do not benefit,” he said.