Police and Military Crackdown After Women’s Protest in Lunda-Norte

For the first time since the end of war, in 2002, the Angolan government has soldiers patrolling the streets of a town and conducting house searches and arrests. Since June 15, soldiers of the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) have been deployed in the diamond-rich town of Cafunfo, in Northeastern Angola, in the aftermath of a largely women’s protest, which took place on the same day.

More than 15,000 citizens took to the streets in protest against the wave of brutal murders of female peasants, and the mutilation of their bodies in Cafunfo, Cuango municipality, in Lunda-Norte province.

Yesterday, the soldiers and police kept the town in a state of alert with gunfire that went on for several minutes, close to 11 PM.

“FAA soldiers are breaking into houses looking for young people to arrest,” Paula Muacassenha, one of the organisers of the protest, told Maka Angola.

On Sunday “at 9 PM, soldiers arrested two brothers, Júnior and Waicela Alberto, who were sitting at home watching television. They had not taken part in the demonstration, and were arrested for no reason. Soldiers are arresting people left, right and centre, and causing terror here in Cafunfo,” said the political activist. According to a relative, the parents had to pay 16,000 kwanzas (US $160) for the release of the two brothers, who had been tortured by the soldiers. The brothers had been transferred from the army to police custody, where they were beaten again until the money was paid.

Yesterday, the police released three minors, including 15 year-old Moisés Tumba, who had been among the 18 people arrested on Saturday. The minors were also subjected to beatings by the soldiers and the police officers according to their testimonies.

After the demonstration, at around 2 PM on Saturday, National Police officers arrested Domingos Marcos Kamone, the regional head of the Social Renovation Party (PRS), along with 17 other demonstrators. The PRS, which holds three seats in Parliament, had supported the demonstration.

The march began at 7 AM in the Bala-Bala neighbourhood, and wound its way through the main streets of Cafunfo. Women chanted religious hymns while they marched.

“The women of Cafunfo turned out en masse. Women are very angry, myself included. In the South, when a bull disappears, even the government worries. Here, women are brutally murdered and the police and government don’t even bat an eyelid,” bemoaned Paula Muacassenha.

Then, the crowd went on to Campo Onze, where a speech was to be read, addressed to local authorities, condemning the wave of violence against women in the region.

However, Manuel Muacabinza, a protester, officers from the National Police disrupted the event with gunfire.

“The demonstration was orderly and peaceful. The police caused troubles by opening fire [to disperse the protesters]. In the retreat, a few angry youths started throwing stones at the police and they burnt a traffic cop’s motorbike,” said the protester.

Once the demonstration was over, the local National Police commander phoned Domingos Marcos Kamone, the PRS representative, “to discuss an issue,” Manuel Muacabinza told Maka Angola. But when the politician arrived at the police station, he was immediately detained and transferred to the National Police municipal command station in the town of Cuango.

The day before, on June 14, the municipal administrator of Cuango, Luís Figueiredo Muambongue, held a meeting with the organisers of the demonstration. According to Paula Muacassenha, who led the group of women, the mayor called on the traditional authorities, as well as the police and military commanders present, to work together in combating the terror against women in Cafunfo.

“The administrator made no mention of the demonstration. He tried to ignore the subject, though we had informed him about it. Now we are being subjected to this wave of persecution. Is that the cooperation he was talking about?” asked Paula Muacassenha.

In Cafunfo, female peasants have become prey to violent attacks, often including post-mortem genital mutilation. In recent times, the region has been experiencing a considerable increase in this type of heinous crimes. At least two women from rural communities were murdered and mutilated in the Cafunfo area in the last 45 days.

Almost all of these women have been murdered on their farms, bordering the diamond mining concession held by Sociedade Mineira do Cuango. Local authorities and the National Police have done little or nothing to investigate these crimes. Subsistence farming is the only means of survival available to the majority of families in the region, besides illegal and artisanal diamond mining, which has been a life-threatening job for locals for the past two decades.

Several protests have taken place in the Cuango region, in the past years, in calling for the right to life and human dignity.

In December 2011, over 3,000 people took to the streets of Cafunfo to protest against the presence of the private security company Teleservice. The local population blamed the company as the main vehicle for systematic human rights abuses in the region, on behalf of Sociedade Mineira do Cuango, which holds the main diamond concession in the region. The demonstrations took place simultaneously in various mining areas of the province, and over 18,000 people, in total, took part in the effort to demand the withdrawal of Teleservice from the region. In March 2012, Teleservice withdrew from the area, and was replaced by Bicuar, which has continued with the reign of terror.