Spotlight On Banyamulenge Pair Beaten By Congolese Embassy Staff In Pretoria

In a disconcerting case of ethnic intolerance, on 14th February 2023 two male members of the ethnonym Banyamulenge community Richard Mukata (29) and Jean-Claude Sibomana (29), were reported by journalist Jonisayi Maromo of Independent Online (IOL) News on 21st February 2023, to have been severely attacked, at the embassy of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in Arcadia, Pretoria. 

Maromo featured in his article the lobbying support for justice for the Banyamulenge community, by the Non-Profit Company (NPC) Not In My Name International (NMNI)

NMNI swiftly released a public statement about this incident on 17th February 2023, entitled No Love on Valentine’s Day

NMNI deserves to be recognised thus far, as being instrumental in boldly challenging the injustice, upon the two Banyamulenge men.

Such solidarity is also promoted by the Non-Governmental Organisation(NGO) called the Turquoise Harmany Institute (THI), evident from its three concerts in 2019, 2020 and 2022 hosted for refugees. 

Based in Birdhaven, Johannesburg, THI aims to raise awareness about the plight of various people in Africa and around the world, chased from their homes and misplaced and to also celebrate surivors who overcome the challenge of being pariahs.  

Back to Maromo’s article, he reported that the South African Police (SAPS) “spokesperson in Gauteng Lieutenant Colonel Mavela Masondo stated that “Police can confirm that a case of common assault was opened at Pretoria Central police station and an investigation is under way”. 

For comprehensive details, it is worth referring to two statements issued about this incident, on 17th and 18th February 2023, by the Executive Committee of the Banyamulenge Community, led by President Chantal Mabeyi on behalf of a constituency who were mostly refugees or asylum seekers in South Africa. 

The first statement was titled “Condemnation of an Assault of our members inside the Congolese Embassy in Pretoria” and the second statement – an open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa – was titled “Condemnation of Ethnic Assault inside the Embassy of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in Pretoria, South Africa“. 

Given the grave dynamics of international relations at play, the aforesaid open letter was appropriately also copy carried, to South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) Naledi Pandor, Minister of Police Bheki Cele, Minister of Home Affairs Aaron Motsoaledi and the offices of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).

This open letter was also further sent to almost all the presidents of the African Great Lakes Region, beginning with President Etienne Tshisekedi (DRC), and followed by President Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), President Paul Kagame (Rwanda), President of the Republic of Burundi and the current Chair of the East African Community Summit Evariste Ndayishimiye, former Prime Minister of Chad now Chair of the African Union (AU) Commission and Moussa Mahamat, President of Namibia and Chair of the South African Democratic Community (SADC) Hage Geingob, Secretary General of the United Nations (UN) Antonio Guterres and ambassadors of the following countries posted in their respective embassies in Pretoria South Africa – DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya, Angola, Ethiopia and the United States of America (USA).

The subsequent points entail the gist, from the two aforementioned letters. 

From the statement of 18th February 2023, this recent attack was outlined as follows ‘after the two Banyamulenge men arrived at the DRC embassy to apply for their passports on 14th February 2023 at 14:15pm, (this is a standard routine procedure undertaken by security personnel at entrances of all embassies which includes producing one’s identification documents this was to prove that the pair were Congolese). 

After officials noticed the birthplace of the two men was Minembwe, located in the South Kivu Province of DRC, a verbal assault began followed by the reported physical attack’. 

The assailants are reported to have included both plenipotentiaries and civilian Congolese, who had also come to the embassy for their documentation. 

The verbal attack echoed remarks that these two Banyamulenge men, as stated in the statement of 18th February 2023 were “supposed to return to Rwanda because Minembwe is not Rwanda”. 

Both the statements of 17th and 18th February 2023, affirmed that a short clip, which partly recorded the assault was available. 

The two victims reportedly survived their attack once the SAPS intervened and drove them to a hospital. 

The same SAPS that witnessed and rescued the two victims perplexingly refused to help them open their case against their assailants. 

The two victims thus only opened their case, after going to a hospital. 

To paraphrase from the executive’s statement of 17th February 2023, basically “this violent attack took place inside the embassy premises… they were attacked because of their ethnic affiliation – for simply being members of the Banyamulenge community, something to do with their physical traits”. 

Tellingly the same statement further states that “this is a second attack targeting [the Banyamulenge members] on similar basis, our members at the Congolese embassy in South Africa, and despite our efforts to raise this issue with the Congolese embassy and South Africa’s DIRCO. The attack is among others targeting members of our community whenever they try to request services at the embassies. Similar incidents have occurred in Ethiopia, Belgium and unnoticed [other places]”. 

The Vice President of the Executive Committee of the Banyamulenge Cleophas Nganire, confirmed to me that indeed another member of the Banyamulenge Patrice Rutabara (34), suffered the same fate at the DRC embassy in 2015. Nganire informed me that the 2015 attack was raised with the ambassador of DRC and DIRCO. 

The matter was closed in 2015 after officials in the latter offices, apologised and promised that such transgressions will not be repeated. What now, given the latest transgression? 

As a scholar of Africa’s International Relations (IR), although not surprised at ethnic intolerance (prevalent across Africa and beyond), I continue to be disappointed to observe sites where such incidents take place and officials found to be complicit not held accountable. 

It is sad to concede that even in the wake of bilateral and multilateral aggreements, countries claiming to be constitional democracies such as South Africa and DRC and multilateral organisations, that are meant to serve as intermediaries such as SADC, AU and UN continue to fail to hold their plenipotentiaries accountable, as reflected by this latest saga at the DRC embassy, in Pretoria. 

The Executive of the Banyamulenge Community may have realised that detailing their plight may have been superfluous, if they were aware that on the same two dates when they released their two statements (17th and 18th February 2023), elsewhere in South Africa Siyabonga Mkhwanazi, the Western Cape Politics and Opinion Editor, released two IOL articles respectively. 

The first (on 17th February) was entitled Ramaphosa arrives in Ethiopia for AU Summit and the second (on 18th February) was entitled Ramaphosa Warns of resurgence of violence in eastern DRC

Mkhwanazi’s initial article reported that “The Presidency said on Friday that Ramaphosa, as chairperson of the AU Peace and Security Council, would chair a meeting to look at the issue of the ongoing conflict in the DRC where the M23 rebels have been active for years. 

“The UN mission Monusco has been deployed in the region over the last few years. Ramaphosa will table his report to the heads of state”. 

Mkhwanazi’s second article reported that “President Cyril Ramaphosa has warned about the security situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with the resurgence of the violence in the region where the M23 rebels have been locking horns with the government. 

He said the security situation has worsened despite a peace agreement that was signed in 2013.

They thought the M23 had been dismantled when the peace deal was signed 10 years ago, but they were surprised about its activities. 

The violence in the region had also claimed the life of a South African National Defence Force (SANDF) member [Sergeant Vusimuzi Joseph Mabena (37)] when their helicopter was shot at a few weeks ago. While one soldier was killed another was wounded. 

The SANDF is part of the stabilisation force led by the UN mission, Monusco. 

I am baffled at their surprise? 

Mkhwanazi also reported that ‘Ramaphosa told the AU that they were worried about the deterioration of the situation in the eastern DRC.

He said they thought the peace agreement signed in 2013 would usher in a period of peace and stability but the resurgence of the violence raised serious alarm bells. 

Mkhwanazi quoted Ramaphosa as follows “Ten years since it was signed, the eastern DRC continues to experience periodic cycles of conflict and violence. 

We agree that the volatile security situation in the eastern DRC has gone on for far too long, and is untenable. 

We cannot but be troubled by this humanitarian catastrophe. 

We cannot but be horrified to see people being butchered, women and girls being violated and by the blatant violations of human rights and of the rules of engagement in conflict. 

The current cycle of violence is even more worrying, and is being fuelled by the resurgence of the armed group M23 that was thought to have been dismantled in 2013 / 2014”. 

Mkhwanazi further reported that President Ramaphosa “called on all the stakeholders to ensure the implementation of the peace deal in the region. 

The situation would not stabilise if not all the parties did not stick to the full implementation of the agreement”.

Notwithstanding the aforesaid details reported by Mkhwanazi, the Executive Committee of the Banyamulenge in their duel statements, made in an attempt to narrate where the roots of the animosity, as was crudely displayed by their fellow Congolese originated from. 

They mention that due to the contested history, of their origins (which they project to pre-date DRC’s independence of 30th June 1960), their fellow Congolese dismiss them as Rwandese, Baryarwanda or Tutsi Rwandese. 

They are not considered as citizens but ‘foreigners’ in DRC. 

Identity Politics which has mired the miscellanious intra and inter border battles, that transpired whence among others Banyamulenge militia are charged, to have contributed to killing sprees of fellow Congolese, fuels hatred against them. 

Due to politicised history and contested identity of the Banyamulenge, access to resources in DRC (e.g land in North and South DRC, where they settled as pastoralists) and their push for political status also explicates the rationale for their victimisation. 

As a way forward to novices who seek to undertstand the dynamics concerning the Banyamulenge people, the following proposed approach may aid, to decipher the contestations about the Banyamulenge people and their subsequent debacle(s). 

In pursuit of a balanced perspective, I advise that engaging multiple sources that may be grouped mainly into the following three categories, would be of great assistance – seek and engage: 

  • a) the anti-Banyamulenge sources (usually advanced by individuals or groups supporting arguments about the ‘Indigenous’ vs. ‘non-indigenous’ / ‘non-native’ and ‘foreigner’ pigeonholing of the Banyamulenge in the DRC). Beyond the hate speech promoted by the propaganda of a litany of government officials over the years by the DRC government, an excellent contemporary representative of this category is the host of an online platform called ‘Mulenge Speaks’ John Kapapi and his book published in 2019 titled Lies of the Tutsi in Eastern Congo/Zaire: A Case Study: South Kivu (pre-colonial to 2018); seek and engage 
  • b) sources of individuals or groups perceived as sympathetic or advancing pro-Banyamulenge arguments. Reference can be made to Banyamulenge survivers, who have to their credit studiously embanked on postgraduate studies, such as Lazare Rukundwa’s doctorate at Pretoria University entitled Justice and Righteousness in Matthean Theology and its Relevance to the Banyamulenge Community (2006) and Rukumbuzi Delphin Ntanyama’s book Behind the Scenes of the Banyamulenge Military (2019)
  • c) sources of individuals/groups neither anti nor pro the Banyamelenge wishing to advance objective findings, from critical research. Ugandan born Social Scientist Mahmood Mamdani’s book  When Victims Become Killers (2001), qualifies him in this category. In closure, the Banyamulenge in South Africa are advised to fortify their alliance with non-governmental organisations such as NMNI and THI, in order to compel DIRCO to act.

*The author of this article Dr. Tshepo Mvulane Moloi is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Ali Mazrui Centre for Higher Education Studies (AMCHES) at the University of JohannesburgThe views Dr. Tshepo Mvulane Moloi expresses in this article are not necessarily those of The Bulrushes