Violence and Arson in Bié
By Edú Wañgo:
Bié province has been experiencing an escalation in violence during the election campaign.
On August 21, traditional community leader (soba) Arão Massanga Simão was beaten and struck on the head with a machete. He had allowed a UNITA flag to be hoisted in the village of Muyumba, which falls under his jurisdiction.
Located in Sachenomuna commune, in the municipality of Cuemba, the village has more than 6,000 inhabitants, half of whom are on the electoral register.
“At around 2pm, four National Police officers, armed with PKMs, came to my house looking for me. I did nothing. One of them hit me on the head with the butt of his rifle”, said headman Simão.
On the journey from his house to the police station, a fifteen-minute walk, the community leader explained that he was hit repeatedly with batons by the police officers, and was also struck on the head with a machete.
“All of the villagers were called to witness me being tortured at the police station. The MPLA secretary and mayor of the commune, Rafael Boano, his aide and police commander Adelino were also present”, explained the traditional authority.
Headman Muyomba revealed that both the MPLA secretary and mayor of the commune and the administrator Pedro Sehulo, had offered him “the promise of 10,000 kwanzas (US$ 100) to keep quiet about the torture”.
Two days later, on August 23, the police detachment of Sachenomuna commune was reinforced with the arrival of a Kamaz truck full of military personnel and more police officers.
On the same day, “MPLA militants, travelling in two vans, came and tore down all our banners, under police escort”, denounced Lucas Muxito, the UNITA secretary for mobilization.
This act was followed by clashes between MPLA and UNITA militants, who attacked each other with machetes and stones. Ten members of the opposition were injured, three of whom had to be taken to hospital with serious head injuries.
Elsewhere, one of the UNITA leaders, Felipe Nelson Muhongo, stated that National Police officers surrounded his house and one of them struck him with a machete on the right side of the head. He had to be evacuated to Kuito, the provincial capital of Bié.
“The police threatened the residents with guns. The officers said that anyone who voted for UNITA would be shot. There was widespread panic within the community”, denounced Felipe Muhongo.
The UNITA secretary for mobilization in Sachinemuno, Lucas Muxito, was also struck in the head with a blow from a machete. He had to be given ten stitches in hospital. The politician informed that he had been dealt a punishment beating for having led the UNITA group that raised party flags in the villages of Muyomba and Samuhongo.
During the clashes, National Police officers fired off rounds to disperse the crowds.
The administrator of Cuemba, and first secretary of the MPLA, Laurinda Kapokolola, refused to enter into details on the incidents. She merely commented that it was “a natural dynamic of the campaign process” and hinted at the possibility of making a public statement shortly.
In turn, the spokesman for the provincial command of the National Police, chief superintendent António Hossi, emphasised that police intervention had only been used “to restore order, where militants from both parties clashed”.
However, the provincial secretary of UNITA for Bié, Eliote Ekolelo, confirmed that his party intends to lodge a criminal complaint with the Provincial Prosecutor against the local authorities in the areas where there have been incidences of police brutality.
Arson attacks on houses
The municipality of Camacupa was also affected by the violence caused by the electoral campaign. On August 19 and 20, in a series of night-time raids, MPLA militants burnt down eight houses belonging to prominent UNITA militants, who were identified as ringleaders in the clashes between the referred factions.
In Mumbuê commune, in the municipality of Chitembo, the placement of UNITA banners and mobilization of voters by this party, caused clashes with MPLA militants on August 17. Both sides armed themselves with machetes, stones and other weaponry. That same night, the houses of seven prominent UNITA militants in the commune were burnt to the ground by MPLA militants.