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Congolese nationals, activists and various organisations took to the streets of Cape Town on Saturday to highlight the genocide that is happening mainly in the eastern parts of the mineral-rich country in the centre of the continent. Congo has experienced intense war and conflict since 1996 which has links to the Rwandan genocide which lasted for three months and claimed close to a million lives. The Global Conflict Tracker estimates that about six million people have been killed since 1996 making it one of the deadliest conflicts in world history.

The protesters who spoke to Elitsha said that the geopolitical competition between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Uganda, and various non-state armed groups fuels the fighting. Congolese Civil Society of South Africa vice chairperson, Joe-Yves Salankang Sa Ngol, addressed the crowd gathered outside parliament: “The war is about the interests of so many countries, a coalition of rogue countries using transnational companies and some using puppet African leaders who play a role in facilitating the looting of Congolese minerals.”

South African-Congolese activist, Hannah Mutanda Kaniki said that they believe what is happening in the Congo is genocide because it is about ethnic cleansing and intent to kill Congolese. “A lot of people have been saying that what is happening in Congo is not genocide but this is genocidal action for economic gain. This is the same thing that we are seeing in Palestine. The Israelis and Zionists are in Palestine doing what they are doing not because they hate Palestinian people but want to gain the land that belongs to Palestinians. It is the same thing that is happening in Congo: the eradication, the rape, the use of violence against women, children and men is all used to pillage the mineral resources of Congolese people. A lot of people will argue that this is not genocide but it says that partial or complete discrimination of an ethnicity and the intent to kill qualifies as genocide. Congo meets four out of the five criteria for a genocide according to the United Nations description,” she said.

History of the war

At the end of the Rwandan genocide, according to a United Nations report, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) under Paul Kagame drove the extremists from power and with it sent more than a million Hutu refugees fleeing into Zaire (DRC between 1971-1997) fearing revenge for the genocide. The tide of Rwandans that settled in the eastern part of the country included politicians, defeated soldiers and Hutu militiamen who led the genocide in Rwanda. The then dictator of Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko continued to support his Hutu allies which then fuelled anger and upheaval as the Tutsi-led government in Rwanda armed itself in preparation for another genocide.

The protesters say that millions of children in the eastern parts of DRC are exposed to violence and need to be protected.

The Guardian reports that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) added fuel to the fire by recognising the Hutu extremists as leaders of the refugee camps and gave them control of food distribution, thereby giving them power over the sprawling camps which were soon transformed into army bases.

Cobalt and coltan and other minerals at the centre of the war

The DRC is endowed with rich mineral deposits. According to Crux Investor report, the DRC holds over 70% of global cobalt reserves, boasts rich diamond deposits and has bountiful reserves of copper, tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold.

“Those involved know that Congo is very rich in minerals. We have coltan and cobalt that is used in laptops and phones. There is a coalition of rogue countries who are making a plan to take control and to loot those minerals and not for the interest of the Congolese people but for themselves. So they have organised themselves with transnational companies from their own countries and they are fuelling violence in the eastern parts of Congo for the past 30 years,” said Joe-Yves Salankang Sa Ngol.

The protesters say that Rwanda is complicit in war crimes that are happening in the eastern DRC.

“There have been military and rebel fights in the eastern part of Congo and overall these have been backed by the Unites States of America, the UK and other countries like Uganda. Kagame (president of Rwanda) was military trained in America and he has been the puppet of the West ever since as he allows them to smuggle the cobalt and coltan out of the country. Rwanda is complicit in sending their rebels to take over and govern some of the areas where mining is taking place,” said Kaniki.

Links between the genocide in Congo and in Palestine

A Palestinian activist now based in Cape Town, Abdallah Grifat said that he supports the fight and the demands of the Congolese people because as a Palestinian, he fully understands their plight. “We the Palestinians feel the pain of the people of Congo more than anyone else because we are facing the same genocide. The atrocities around the world are interconnected whether it’s happening in Congo or Palestine; we need to stand up to injustice,” he said.

Usuf Chikte from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign said that they stand in solidarity with the Congolese because the enemy plundering Congo are the same imperialists plundering Palestine.

Palestinian, Abdallah Grifat at the protest outside parliament on Saturday.

Student Representative Council member from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), Thandekile Ndlovu, called on South Africans to stand in solidarity with the people of Congo. “We are Africans first before we are South Africans. In South Africa we speak about the rape pandemic but every minute and a few seconds, a woman is raped in Congo. We need to stand up as young people, as students for Congo. The west is benefiting from the blood of Congolese people,” she said.

Demands of the protesters

The protesters demanded that the South African government and international community impose sanctions against the countries complicit in the Congolese genocide. They also called for South Africa to initiate an international tribunal on the war crimes being committed in Congo. “We are also here today because of the displacement of Congolese people, their disablement and the pillaging of Congo and killing of women and children,” said Kaniki.

The protesters also called on the DRC government to act against the rebel groups that are causing havoc in the eastern parts of Congo.