Election violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) spilled over in the Cape Town CBD yesterday (Tues) as DRC refugees sympathetic to opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi protested against President Jacob Zuma’s perceived support of incumbent Joseph Kabila.
Frustration among DRC refugees has mounted as election results, the provisional figures which were due to be announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) yesterday, put Kabila in the lead over his closes rival Etienne Tshisekedi, resulting in demonstrations in London, Brussels, Pretoria, Johannesburg and Cape Town.
In Cape Town about 40 armed police officers wearing riot gear clashed with over 500 DRC nationals who gathered – many of them in military gear – in front of the Provincial Legislature office in Wale Street.
The demonstrators, carrying placards denouncing Zuma’s ratification of the election process on Monday in his capacity of chairperson of the SADC organ on politics, defence, and security cooperation.
The demonstrators believe Zuma is simply helping prop up Kabila, who took over following his father’s assassination in 2001.
The DRC nationals beat drums and changed songs in French as they sought an audience with Premier Helen Zille.
Protestors said if Zuma did not pull the SANDF election peacekeeping force out of the DRC those in the diaspora would launch their own attacks in South Africa.
Zille, closely guarded, addressed the protesters at noon.
Zille said in South Africa the DA worked towards a multiparty democracy to make sure that power was not abused, a statement that drew thunderous applause from the protesters.
But she said her powers as Premier were limited and all she could do was convey their concerns to Zuma.
When police tried to mount a blockade to prevent the demonstrators moving as one body up Long Street, police were overpowered.
Police again had to retreat as they tried to prevent demonstrators moving down a side street, despite being armed with shotguns and rubber bullets.
“Shoot us. We were soldiers in our country, we are not scared to die,” shouted demonstrators at retreating police officers.
Police backup eventually stopped the demonstrators before they could reach the French Consulate in Queen Victoria Street where they burnt a French flag and shouted abuse at French President Nicholas Sarkozy.
An officer who appeared in charge of the scene told demonstrators there was no-one at the consulate to receive their memorandum and that the protest was illegal.
When police demanded the crowd disperse they were pelted with rocks, resulting in them spraying pepper spray at those who charged the line of shields.
Pulling back, the demonstrators emptied refuse bins along Queen Victoria and Wale Streets as the dispersed. –Peter Luhanga