Fatally shot during a church-led, peaceful protest in Kinshasa, Thérèse Mwanza Kapangala was one of many Congolese to fall victim to Joseph Kabila’s brutal, illegal and illegitimate regime.
Within the church grounds of St Francois de Sales in the municipality of Kintambo in the Democratic Republic of the Congo capital, Thérèse (24), who had aspirations of becoming a nun, was one of more than six people killed by Kabila’s security forces on Sunday, January 21.
Making a bold choice after the Sunday church service, she joined the protest and marched with church leaders and members. The participants were calling for Kabila to stand down so the country could move forward with a new leadership. State security forces opened fire on the peaceful protesters before they could get beyond the church’s vicinity.
A few weeks before the protest, New Year’s Eve saw live ammunition, tear gas and rubber bullets tearing into church buildings and parish grounds when state security forces violently confronted a protest called by the Lay Coordinating Committee (a group of Catholic activists and intellectuals).
Dressed in white, kneeling in prayer with hands raised, singing hymns, holding green branches of trees – a sacred scene – eight people died and six priests, altar boys and many more were beaten or arrested.
Despite these deeply traumatising events along with the precarious reality of ordinary daily life in the DRC, Thérèse Mwanza Kapangala made the decision to march. She died demonstrating her deep desire for a better country and a better world.
After her death, Thérèse’s body was taken to the morgue. The following day when her family went to recover her body, it had disappeared. It is a well-documented practice of the Kabila regime to kill protestors and quickly attempt to snatch their bodies from morgues in order to reduce the body count. Human rights activist Christopher Ngoyi Mutamba was jailed in 2015 for documenting this macabre practice by the Kabila regime.
In an online video Thérèse’s mother says, “Since they kill ... they should come and kill us all … given they want power so bad.”
Congolese people are in an existential battle to create a new world beyond the extreme levels of violence imposed on their everyday lives by a despotic regime. Brute force aimed at ordinary people protesting is a direct measuring stick for the threat posed to Kabila’s regime when hope and the struggle for dignity overtakes fear. The regime has used fear and force as the two means of holding on to power. Should a critical mass of Congolese break the veil of fear, they would quickly overwhelm the regime.
In spite of the brutality of the Kabila regime and the loss of life, more protests are being planned throughout the country. It is prime time for people of conscience to stand in solidarity with the fighting spirits of people like Thérèse who are waging a courageous and dignified battle for people’s control of the heart of Africa.
The so-called international community – such the United Nations, African Union, European Union – is firmly ensconced in the logic of Joseph Kabila remaining in place to organise elections. However, the people of the DRC are clear that Joseph Kabila and his handpicked head of the Electoral Commission are incapable of organising free and fair elections. All the federal officials have exceeded their mandate and are illegally occupying their posts.
Friends of the Congo spokesperson Kambale Musavuli draws attention to this saying: “We need to demand that along with this [Kabila stepping down], the imperialists, neocolonialists and their African agents must also keep their hands off the Congo. The battle lines are clear, on the one hand you have the Kabila regime and the international capitalist community and on the other hand you have the Congolese people and their supporters of working class people throughout the globe.
“Ever since they assassinated Lumumba, the West has had a hand in who rules Congo. They were responsible for Kabila ascending to power and are behind the scenes orchestrating who will replace him,” said Musavuli.
Fuelled by a brutal looting expedition, the heart of Africa’s flesh is being brutally stripped of her raw materials. Congo has become an extraction outpost for capitalists at home and abroad. Global technology, electronics, automobile and military industries are all dependent on Congo’s strategic minerals for the production of their modern devices. Congo’s strategic minerals such as cobalt and coltan are critical to the viability and profitability of these industries. In a 2008 interview with the Financial Times, the current head of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres put it best when he reminded the world that: “The international community has systematically looted DRC and we should not forget that.”
Along with the plunder by external forces, Joseph Kabila and his family are extensively embedded in this web of private wealth. An article in The Guardian revealed this vast business network: “Kabila owns 71 000 hectares of farmland, both directly and with his children, while his twin sister holds a valuable stake in the state telecoms company, his younger brother has business interests that range from mining and construction to a stake in the Nando’s fast-food chain, and two family companies have diamond mining permits for 450km of the country’s southern border.”
Access alone to these resources is not enough – ownership and control is necessary and our dependence on these everyday items means we are all entangled in the crisis and the suffering of the Congolese people. The recent mining indaba that took place in South Africa where discussions around the country’s cobalt took centre stage, is an important reminder of the centrality of the DRC to key global industries.
Despite the global use of raw materials, international bodies have remained weak and impotent, while ordinary Congolese people pay the price of these products in currencies of death, hunger, unemployment and abject poverty. The loud silence of the African Union has demonstrated its alliance with the massive mining conglomerates and multinational corporations and their fellow member and strongman, Joseph Kabila.
“We are hungry, we have no jobs, we cannot afford schools, the leaders have sold the country while the people suffer. The people are tired and are suffering. We will not stop, we will continue to march for our rights,’ said Jean-Marie Kalonji, the national coordinator of radical youth movement Quatriemme Voie.
In Johannesburg, on January 18, many Congolese people demonstrated in Yeoville in support of the Catholic Church, Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya and the Congolese people killed in the New Year’s eve demonstrations. The archbishop famously claimed that “the Congo was like an open air prison” under the repressive Kabila regime.
Across the world in Lima, Peru, the pope made a direct appeal to the authorities of Congo to act within the public good. He called on people to pray for the relevant authorities and responsible persons to put their greatest effort towards avoiding all forms of violence and to rather look for peaceful solutions.
Although the pope has no direct authority in international relations, the moral weight of this appeal cannot be denied. Importance lies in the Vatican supporting what this branch of the Catholic Church is doing – potential lies in the ability of the church as an organized structure to mobilise.
The resistance is not solely the affair of the Catholic Church. Muslim leaders have spoken out. Sheikh Ali Mwinyi N’kuum, the representative of the Islamic Community of the Congo called for the constitutional rights of the marchers to be respected.
Father Francois David Ekofo, the president of the protestant Church of Christ in the Congo delivered a searing critique in a January 16 speech delivered to leaders in the Kabila regime during the commemoration of the assassination of Joseph Kabila’s father Laurent Desire Kabila.
Ekofo said it was a sin that despite all the riches of the Congo in oil, gold and coltan, the Congolese people still live in poverty. He laid the current conditions squarely at the feet of the current leaders when he noted that “we must leave to our children a state that actually exists but I have the impression that the state does not exist at all.”
He has since fled the country and is now exiled in the United States.
Thérèse Mwanza Kapangala was not alone in her decision to rise up to fight the injustices ravaging Congo. Her decisive action symbolises the community of women, youths and people who are standing up (Telema in Lingala) and channelling their anger and frustration into action.
Thérèse sacrificed her life for a better world where she became human after having her humanity denied for so long. In choosing to march and fight with conviction to the cause, she affirmed her dignity and that of all those who strive for peace, justice and human freedom.
The Congo (DRC) and its wealth can be saved and restored to its people who are largely the unemployed and the rural poor. It is time for these sectors of society to unite and organise themselves, to fight for power. The world working class must stand ready to support the DRC.
• Kate Janse van Rensburg is a masters history student at Rhodes University. She is associated with the movement for socialism in Numsa and the Numsa research and policy unit