Witchcraft, Police, the MPLA and the murder of a traditional headman.

On May 14, the Provincial Court of Moxico, in Eastern Angola, delivered a landmark verdict against vigilante justice, based on accusations of witchcraft, which is prevalent in that region.

Judge Pereira da Silva sentenced both the head of the ruling party, the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) for the municipality of Cangamba, Alberto Tchinongue Catolo, and a local traditional authority (Soba) Cangamba, António Kanguia Candimbo, to six years in prison, for ordering the lynching of Soba Augusto Chimbidi.

The judge also convicted the municipal commander of the National Police in Cangamba, Manuel N’doje Ijita Cawina to two months in prison for his part in the witchcraft séance plot, which served to justify the mob assassination of Augusto Chimbidi. In his ruling, the judge concluded that the police commander did not take part in ordering the killing, but that he had prevented his police officers from stopping the lynching.

Meanwhile, the Masseca brothers, Arão and Eliseu, were sentenced to 14 years in prison each, both for committing the murder and for arson, as they set fire to the victim’s house and two others belonging to his nephew.

The case began with a love triangle, which led to an accusation of witchcraft. In many regions it is quite common for high-ranking officials and traditional authorities to be involved in divination cults and to use obscurantism as a means of justice. The local leaders held a public trial and the man accused of witchcraft was given a death sentence, to be carried out immediately. There was also a political agenda involved in the case, which is equally common.

Referring to the lenght of the sentences, Attorney Zola Bambi, from Associação Mãos Livres, stated that, “this is the most effective way of informing Moxico society that there are laws to be upheld. People cannot take the law into their own hands.”

In the lawyer’s opinion, “it was a great trial against obscurantism and ignorance.”

The Narrative

Maka Angola pieces together the narrative from events that were revealed and confirmed during the various sessions of the public trial, which took place in the Provincial Court of Moxico, under case nº 94/-B2013.

Given the enormous public interest in the case in the city of Luena, the provincial capital of Moxico, the Provincial Court held about nine sessions of the trial in the Youth Conference Auditorium, accommodating almost 200 people in the gallery.

The story began to unfold in June 2012, in the town and municipal centre of Cangamba, also in Moxico province.

Alone Masseca, secretary of the local government (in charge of administration), fell ill and decided to consult a healer for a “traditional cure”. The healer told him that he had probably been bewitched by the municipal commander of the National Police, Manuel Cawina, and the latter’s purported father-in-law, Xamassela. The psychic also informed him of his imminent death.

There was a connection between Alone Masseca and Manuel Cawina: Masseca’s wife, simply known as Catarina, was Cawina’s lover. Two of Xamassela’s daughters were also sexually involved with the commander.

Believing what the healer had said about Cawina allegedly using witchcraft, Alone Masseca wrote a letter accusing the commander, and got in touch with the local elders to inform them of the situation and of his illness, which he believed to be terminal. He in fact died a few days later.

In response, the elders asked commander Cawina to come to the jango, the place where meetings with traditional authorities are usually held. Members of the deceased man’s family were also asked to attend. They came to a compromise by deciding to send a delegation to the neighbouring province of Kuando-Kubango, to consult with a psychic there who was supposedly impartial and had nothing to do with local events.

Three people, representing the traditional authorities, the family of the deceased and the accused, made up the mission. According to evidence given at the trial, the healer in Kuando-Kubango reiterated the prophesy given by his colleague in Cangamba. According to him, the commander and his father-in-law were indeed sorcerers.

Unhappy with the verdict, the commander suggested a second mission, this time to the Congo, where a foreign psychic would be better qualified and indisputably impartial.

The first secretary of the MPLA, Alberto Tchinongue Catolo, sponsored the mission to the Congo by providing an off-road vehicle, money and supplies for the journey. The MPLA official is Catarina’s uncle, Catarina being the Masseca’s widow and the lover of the National Police commander. Domingos Caioca, commander Cawina’s brother led the mission.

A few hours after their return from the Congo, on November 9, 2012, the MPLA official, commander Cawina and Soba Cangamba held a second meeting in the jango, to discuss the outcome of the mission. Several members of Alone Masseca’s family as well as more than 20 people from the local community attended the meeting to hear the verdict brought from the Congo.

According to evidence from Memória Chimbidi, the daughter of Soba Chimbidi, her father had also been called to attend the meeting. The first secretary opened the meeting while the delegation was still on its way.

In the jango, commander Cawina introduced the delegation sent to the Congo, led by his brother. Domingos Caioca proceeded to give a report on the journey. He informed those present that the Congolese psychic had “unmasked” Soba Chimbidi and his nephew Pedro Likissi, a clerk at the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, as the actual sorcerers.

What was the connection linking the chief and his nephew to the protagonists? Augusto Chimbidi was the highest-ranking traditional authority in Cangamba. His mortal enemies were the first secretary of the MPLA and Soba Cangamba.

The enmity between the three was heightened when the prince of the Bunda tribe, Muambando, whose territories are confined to the municipality of Lumbala-Nguimbo, attempted to install Soba Cangamba, of the same lineage, as the prince of Cangamba, a title that does not exist within the hierarchy of local traditional authority.

In turn, the first secretary, also of Bunda ethnicity, declared his allegiance to Muambando and Cangamba, in open war against Chimbidi, who is from the Luchaze ethnic group. Chimbidi was well known for being an obstacle to the political designs of Alberto Tchinongue Catolo, the head of the MPLA, for absolute control of the power of traditional authorities and, consequently of the local population, which still relies heavily on traditional authority.

The sentence

The first secretary of the MPLA took charge and handed my father over to the people. He said, ‘You, members of Alone’s family, do what you wish with these guys’”, explains Memória Chimbidi.

In turn, Cangamba was the next to speak, backing up what secretary Alberto Catolo had said, and he gave an order for his colleague to be beaten. It was around 14h30.

“They started to torture my father right there in the jango, while a group left to set fire to my father’s house, and to two owned by Pedro Likissi, as well as his car. He escaped death because he was in Luena at the time”, Memória Chimbidi recalls.

The soba managed to escape his attackers and sought refuge in the house of a colleague, Soba Caquete. The lynch mob threatened to set fire to Caquete’s house and to beat him as well if he didn’t deliver the fugitive to them.

A police officer, known by the name of Fikixikixi, accompanied by an unnamed civilian, came to the defence of Soba Augusto Chimbidi, shielding him from his attackers. They escorted him to the house of the first secretary of the MPLA, to ensure his safety. The attackers, armed with sticks and blunt objects, gave chase.

He was taken to the house of Catolo, the same man who, moments before, had pronounced his sentence in the jango. “The first secretary said to the police officer and the civilian: ‘don’t bring him into my house, kill him outside’”, states the daughter.

Officer Fikixikixi and the unnamed civilian persisted, and did not comply with the order given by the secretary. Instead, they took Soba Chimbidi to the municipal hospital for treatment, and left him in a room that they locked with a padlock.

“We found out that the municipal commander had given an order to the police not to get involved in the situation”, states António Chimbidi, who ran straight to the hospital, accompanied by his brother, in an attempt to save his father’s life.

Officer Fikixikixi placed a call to the police station to ask for assistance to save the soba. He spoke to Officer Domingos Vihemba, who told him about the order given by the commander, prohibiting all his subordinates from offering any assistance whatsoever to the Soba. Fikixikixi, under pressure, was left with no option but to leave the area.

At around 15h00, a youth, simply known as Fue, led a crowd of about 40 people to the hospital, determined to take the law into their own hands. Fue broke the padlock, hauled the injured soba out of the room, and dragged him outside, where Eliseu Masseca, the son of the unfortunate Alone Masseca, was waiting for him with a knife.

Both Fue and Eliseu struck the Soba Chimbidi several times on the head with their knives. “Fue’s knife got bent. He stopped, straightened the knife, sharpened it on a stone and proceeded to re-join Eliseu in stabbing the victim again and again, around the head, ears, arms and legs, while the rest of the gang hit him in the chest with cudgels”, explains António Chimbidi.

“We saw the whole thing. We were two brothers against a gang of over 40 people, armed with knives and sticks. They knew we were his sons. In the end, we fled in terror”, laments António Chimbidi.

At around 18h00 of the same day, the sons returned to the hospital, where they found their father, still breathing, lying in the spot where he had been stabbed. He was covered in blood. The doctors had also fled the hospital as a result of threats.

A passer-by next to the headman was screaming about the lack of humanity of the authors of such an atrocity.

The sons lifted up their father between them and took him back into the hospital. After about an hour, one of the doctors came back, and treated the injured man’s wounds.

Early the next morning, on November 10, the soba woke up and asked his son António to get a pen and some paper to record the incident.

He asked for the names of the members of the delegation to the Congo to be recorded. He also dictated the names of all the attackers he recognised. He explained the order given by the first secretary of the MPLA to the family of Alone Masseca, to dispose of the soba as they saw fit. He told about the presence of the commander in the jango, and the role he played in this arbitrary conviction.

At around 18h00 on the same day, Soba Chimbidi died.

Witchcraft, not Murder
In court, both the secretary of the MPLA and the police commander confirmed the narrative about the accusations of witchcraft, the procedures followed and their consequences. They denied any moral responsibility for the brutal killing of the soba. They both stated that they had left the jango before the soba was beaten.

Maka Angola found out from an official source that the provincial governor of Moxico and provincial first secretary of the MPLA, João Ernesto dos Santos “Liberdade”, took it upon himself personally to provide legal assistance to his subordinate Alberto Tchinongue Catolo. The high-flying law firm Paula Godinho & Associados represented the defendant, while the Associação Mãos Livres, a public interest legal practice, worked pro bono for the family of the soba.

Judge Pereira da Silva showed great courage and capability in the performance of his duties, by taking the case to trial, in spite of adverse pressure.

Initially, preparatory instruction assigned a false identification number to the case file delivered to the family, so that they would try to obtain information about a non-existent investigation. Local activists took it upon themselves to denounce this manoeuvre, which is fast becoming common practice as a means of ensuring that inconvenient cases never see the light of day.

Attorney Zola Bambi, from Associação Mãos Livres, stated that, regarding the sentence, “the most  important was to transmit to society, in Moxico, that there are laws to be upheld. People cannot take justice into their own hands.”

For the lawyer, “it was a great trial against obscurantism and ignorance.”

In Moxico, accusations of witchcraft and death sentences by lynching or poisoning are engrained in local society, up to and including the highest levels of the provincial government.

The convictions represented a breakthrough on the political cover-up of these acts by the local administration. Such acts have enshrined in Moxico a Medieval-style system of justice and political engagement.