Mothers Denied Justice Due to Traditional Beliefs

A petition for clemency by mothers of two of Angola’s prisoners of conscience has gone unheard by the judge notorious for presiding over the show trial of the 17 Luanda Book Club activists.

The mothers are pleading for the release of their sons, 19 year-old Nito Alves and 27 year-old Francisco Mapanza, who remain in jail in spite of a Supreme Court ‘habeas corpus’ ruling that forced the release of fellow activists convicted last March over an alleged conspiracy to incite political rebellion..

Nito Alves is one of the 17 Luanda Book Club activist, sentenced to four and a half years in prsion, who are appealing their conviction on the conspiracy charge.  He has not been freed because he is serving an additional six-month sentence for contempt over his remark in court that the show trial was a sham. Francisco Mapanza, who was attending the trial, became the unwitting 18th victim in the case, when he echoed Nito Alves’s comment. Judge Januário said this too was contempt and promptly sent him down for eight months.

Francisco Mapanza is jailed in miserable conditions in the Viana penitentiary, with his visitors able to see them only via a grille and denied the chance to deliver food or touch him.

Both mothers decided to embark on a campaign to have them set free. But their attempt to submit a petition for clemency was rejected over some of the wording in the plea.

Officials at the Luanda court where Judge Januário Domingos is based, refused to receive the letter on the grounds that it contains a reference to asking a traditional healer or a diviner, locally known as Kimbanda to “invoke all the spirits of the world to help change the judge’s malign spirit.”

Susana Gomes Makongo Sebastião, Francisco Mapanza’s mother, told Maka Angola what happened when they tried to deliver their petition. “They asked us to remain calm, said that the letter was well-written but that we needed to remove the part referring to the invocation of spirits and a visit to the ‘kimbanda’. The court was prejudicial towards indigenous ancestral practices.

Adália Chivonde, the mother of Nito Alves, said: “Neither the politicians nor the courts will hear our plea, so we have no choice but to do whatever we can”. That includes recourse to prayer, and asking a ‘kimbanda’ to help remove any malign spirits.

Hence the petition’s reference to their traditional beliefs. “We will pray to higher powers and call on them to issue a clarion call to your spiritual conscience.  Your spirit needs to be set free and we will send up prayers morning, noon and night to Mamã Muxima.”

The two women insist that court officials were entirely wrong to construe from this that they wished to cast some kind of ‘juju’ spell on the judge.

“I think they were afraid to receive the petition. Clearly they feel the weight of this on their conscience.  The court official said that if someone is invoking the spirits, they must intend that death should befall the victim”, said Adália Chivonde. “This is just not true. We don’t wish ill on anyone, we only want our sons to be set free.”

For her part Susana Sebastião said: “The court officials threatened us that the judge could put us on trial for invoking the spirits and that this could have additional consequences. They said they would only accept a petition if we took out any reference to the ‘kimbanda’.  It makes you wonder if the judge is afraid of the ‘kimbanda’ and traditional belief.”