NEWS

Threat To 'Burn Down' DRC Embassy In Pretoria

According to the ambassador Bene M’Poko, election protesters have threatened to occupy and burn down the building.

16/12/2016 13:12 SAST | Updated 16/12/2016 13:22 SAST
David Lewis/Reuters
A Congolese protester tears down a campaign poster of President Joseph Kabila in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, July 25, 2006.

Democratic Republic of the Congo expatriates in Gauteng are set to have a "prayer meeting" on Friday, days ahead of a planned march on the country's embassy in Pretoria.

Their action is set to coincide with protests by opposition supporters in the DRC on Tuesday, the first day after President Joseph Kabila's term of office expires according to the country's constitution.

There are fears that Kabila would attempt to change the country's constitution to allow himself a third term. Elections were supposed to take place this year, but the country's electoral commission has proposed an 18-month delay of the election date so that a census and voter registration could be completed.

DRC-based human rights lawyer Hubert Tshiswaka Masoka said: "On the ground in the DRC people are anxious because the second and last term of the president in office is ending on 19 December, and the president is not preparing his succession, and he didn't organise elections, so people are very anxious".

Masoka said the constitution dictated that after the 19th, the president of the senate should step up and organise elections within 60 days. He blamed Kabila for the delay.

Negotiations

The DRC ambassador to South Africa, Bene M'Poko, however, said the extra time was necessary for the electoral commission to "update voter registration, because people who voted in 2006, a lot of them have died, and more than 20 million young people who have come to age are eligible to vote, but are not part of voter registration".

The time was also needed to put in place provisions for Congolese citizens living overseas to vote.

M'poko said another consideration was money. The country, which is twice the size of South Africa but which is lacking in large parts in proper infrastructure like roads, needed between $1 and $2 billion to organise the elections.

M'poko said the DRC didn't have the money and donors have so far not been forthcoming.

Negotiations to end the political stalemate in the DRC, facilitated and mediated by the Catholic Church, resumed on Tuesday after earlier talks led by the African Union failed to end the impasse.

The opposition coalition, Rassemblement (Gathering), backs veteran politician Etienne Tshisekedi.

They are demanding the release of jailed leaders and the safe return of aspiring presidential candidate Moise Katumbi to the DRC, as well as guarantees from Kabila that he would not attempt to run for a third term.

Violence

They also want the governing party to agree on a date for the elections in 2017.

M'poko said Kabila could not just step down next week because according to the constitution the president could only leave office when a new president was installed.

"There will be a power vacuum, and if we have a power vacuum today, Congo will disintegrate," he said.

M'poko said protesters had threatened to occupy and burn down the embassy, which is the property of a group of South African lawyers.

He said the South African police was tasked to protect the building and staff.

Meanwhile Congolese citizens who have the means have already started leaving the country for an extended Christmas break over fears that next week's planned protests would lead to a widespread outbreak of violence.

A quick check of the South African Airways web site confirmed that flights to Johannesburg are full, with the first available flight being only on Wednesday.

News24