Crowd gathers to support DRC 'mercenaries'

Pretoria - Supporters of a DRC rebel group accused of plotting to overthrow President Joseph Kabila's government marched outside the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Monday.

Waving Democratic Republic of Congo flags, the group of men and women marched along Paul Kruger Street, adjacent to the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria where the detained men appeared.

“They must be released. The South African government should never think of sending them back to the DRC,” said Francis Matumona.

“There is no justice in the DRC. If you are incarcerated in Congo, you are like a personal prisoner of Joseph Kabila. Can you imagine what happens to the 20 guys if they are sent back to the DRC? We trust the South African justice system to save them.”

The 20 men are in custody and have not pleaded.

They stand accused of plotting to overthrow their government while they were in South Africa.

Nineteen appeared in court on Monday and one member was said to be in Kalafong Hospital, west of Pretoria, with an undisclosed ailment.

The matter will resume on Tuesday after Cerita Joubert, representing the ailing man, was granted time to visit him on Monday.

Nineteen of the men, including US-Congolese citizen James Kazongo, were arrested on 5 February last year in a police raid in Limpopo.

The group's alleged leader Etienne Kabila, who claims to be the DRC president's half-brother, was arrested in Cape Town three days later after handing himself over to police.

The State alleges the group were members of a dissident organisation in the DRC known as the Union of Nationalists for Renewal and were dissatisfied with the current leadership of the DRC government under Joseph Kabila's leadership.

They face charges of contravening the SA Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act by engaging in mercenary activity, and contravening the local Riotous Assemblies Act by conspiring to murder president Kabila and 15 top members of his government.

Community unhappy

The State alleges the group last year met undercover members of the Hawks on several occasions.

They allegedly recruited two of the officers and others to provide specialised military training to the group and to procure large numbers of assault rifles, grenades, machine guns, air-to-air missiles, satellite phones, and two-way radios for them.

A leader of DRC immigrants based in Pretoria, Kazadi Ilunga Mpanga, said the detained men’s families were struggling.

“It’s coming to two years since they were arrested. We are tired now. These men have left wives and children with no one to feed them,” said Ilunga.

“The Congolese community is not happy. We cannot sleep at night, thinking about them. We believe South Africa’s justice system is clear, and we are going to succeed.”

Numerous police officers monitored the group which sang and chanted in Lingala, one of the main languages in the DRC.

The supporters vowed to continually attend the court proceedings, despite the tight security screening at the entrance.

“We need to pursue this matter until its finality. If the 20 want to go back to the DRC, I am prepared to go with them. Congo is not free,” said Guy Dibwe.

The State alleges the group's mercenary activities in South Africa had been aimed at a coup d'etat in the DRC to unseat the country's government.

It is further alleged that the group had conspired to murder Kabila and several DRC government officials, including the chiefs of the DRC air force and navy, the national intelligence director, the governor of the central bank, and the minister of interior.