Scuffles and Arrests During Electoral Campaign in Benguela
By António Capalandanda,
The National Police, arrested Calisto Kavoli, the municipal secretary of UNITA for the province of Benguela, during a dispute which took place last Friday, between militants from his party and MPLA supporters, over the placement of election posters in Benguela.
At around 2 PM, a group of over 20 members of Revolutionary Youth of Angola (JURA), the youth branch of UNITA, approached the Rotunda da Cruz Vermelha [Red Cross Roundabout], in the city of Benguela, and began tearing up MPLA pamphlets there.
According to a report printed in the officious Jornal de Angola, the first secretary of the MPLA in Benguela, Armando da Cruz Neto, “deplored the attitude of UNITA leaders and militants.” In a public event which took place on August 4, the MPLA leader and governor of Benguela said, referring to the occurrence: “I cannot believe that after 10 years of peace, there are still parties that inculcate these ideas, that have nothing to do with peace and democracy, into the minds of their militants.”
In turn, João Rafael “Toy”, a UNITA youth involved in the incident, alleged that his group was only reacting to a MPLA harassment campaign begun the morning of the same day. According to this member of JURA, on Friday morning, August 3, “MPLA militants, under police protection, and using wheel-loaders, started to tear down our banners and posters placed along public roads in Lobito, in the city of Benguela and in the municipality of Catumbela.”
During this act of vandalism, an MPLA militant, the provincial delegate of Benguela for education, Nelson da Conceição, was also involved in tearing down UNITA flyers posted in the area, according to Mário Calei, who was at the scene. During a heated verbal exchange, JURA youths violently assaulted the MPLA delegate.
A few minutes later, several police officers arrived at the scene, to restore order. The UNITA municipal secretary for Benguela, Calisto Kavoli also appeared. According to João Rafael, superintendent Kundi, the municipal commander of the National Police in Benguela, ordered Calisto Kavoli to be arrested immediately, even though he had allegedly rushed to the scene to discipline his militants. “One of the police officers started hitting our leader over the head with the grip of his pistol and I tried to protect him. Superintendent Kundi fired two shots between my legs, luckily he missed,” said João Rafael.
In spite of his arrest, and that of three other members of JURA, eye witnesses confirmed that Calisto Kavoli appealed for calm amongst his militants.
Jornal de Angola, reporting on the incident, stated that members of UNITA were armed with “sticks, machetes and spades,” in order to destroy MPLA advertising. However, Mariano Pedro José, one of the UNITA participants, refuted the accusation. “That’s a complete lie, pure fiction! We only brought two spars and a ladder to put up our banners. A spade is used for agriculture, not vandalism,” said the former soldier.
Mariano Pedro José told how, during the police intervention, “one of the police officers fired two shots straight at me. We were face to face. I threw myself at him, punched him twice in the gut and he dropped the pistol.”
Highlighting his luck at not being shot, the UNITA militant said that the police officer retrieved his gun and didn’t fire it again. Members of the Rapid Response Police were called to the scene and the UNITA members having dispersed.
The dispute over party political propaganda took place on the eve of a supposed visit to Benguela by the president of the MPLA and of the republic, José Eduardo dos Santos, on the campaign trail. “MPLA men started tearing or covering our posters with the face of Zé Dú [José Eduardo dos Santos], so that he would see only his own face on the public road and just his own party’s flag,” complained Mariano Pedro José.
The main roads of the cities of Lobito, Benguela, Catumbela and Baía Farta are plastered with MPLA campaign material and photographs of José Eduardo dos Santos.
In a letter addressed to António Maria Sita, the Provincial Police Commander of Benguela, UNITA’s Provincial Election Campaign Management for Benguela informed that groups of MPLA militants, travelling on wheel-loaders and other vehicles and with the support of municipal authorities in Benguela, Lobito, Catumbela and Baía Farta, have been destroying UNITA campaign material. This opposition party condemned the alleged inertia and silence of police officers, who witness such acts without doing anything to prevent them.
Maka Angola tried, unsuccessfully, to speak to the National Police Command and the MPLA’s provincial management of Benguela.
Meanwhile, these reported incidents by UNITA and the MPLA violate the Electoral Code of Conduct.