'Zuma wants our oil'

2013-04-28 14:00

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War looms in the DRC. Pieter-Louis Myburgh and Leon Sadiki visit the M23’s heartland and learn why the rebels have so much disdain for SA’s government and military

South Africa’s not interested in peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), M23 rebels insist; it “only wants to come here for the petrol”.

There is a battle brewing in the DRC’s increasingly tense eastern regions.

The M23 rebels say they are ready, willing and very able to defeat the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) and other soldiers who form part of a UN-created “intervention force”.

M23 allowed City Press a rare opportunity: the chance to travel into the heart of the vast region it has seized from the DRC government to meet the group’s president and other leaders in Bunagana on the Rwanda border.

Colonel Vianney Kazarama of the M23 is utterly dismissive of the South African military, and particularly scathing about allegations that DRC President Joseph Kabila and President Jacob Zuma’s controversial nephew Khulubuse are involved in a corrupt oil deal.

M23 insists these allegations are fact. They claim Kabila allowed Khulubuse to purchase a valuable oil concession on the shores of Lake Edward at a premium price.

In exchange, the rebels say, Zuma used his powerful connections to make sure South Africa committed elite troops and top-drawer fire power to the UN force to smash M23.

“We are the same as the ANC. We are fighting for freedom against a corrupt and absent government, but now they are abandoning their values by choosing Kabila’s side to come and fight against us,” says Kazarama. Major Allan Kallise, who trains new M23 recruits, showed City Press their “soldier’s handbook” which, according to its cover, comes from the headquarters of the US “department of the army”.

“We downloaded it from the internet,” Kallise explains.

Bertrand Bisimwa, the M23’s political leader, is confident that his forces can beat the UN forces.

Oddly, for a man who manages and inspires soldiers, he preaches peace.


“Our biggest concern is bad governance. The government doesn’t do anything to develop the country. It is corrupt.

“We are working to find a peaceful solution with our talks in (Ugandan capital) Kampala, but Kabila and the UN went ahead with forming the intervention force while the peace talks were still taking place,” Bisimwa told City Press at a press conference held in a lush field under the watchful eye of soldiers armed with machine guns and rocket launchers.

“The UN’s resolution 2008, which enables the intervention force to come into being, maintains its purpose is to eradicate all the negative forces in the country, but the document mentions us nine times while only referring to the others three times. The UN is targeting us specifically,” says Bisimwa.

For good reason, many would argue. M23 has been accused of mass rape, murder sprees and recruiting child soldiers.

Bisimwa dismisses these claims, saying they’re part of the UN and the government’s propaganda campaign against the group.

He also denies long-standing accusations that M23 receives assistance – in the form of both troops and weapons – from neighbouring Rwanda.

“President Zuma is meddling with affairs that do not concern him. South Africa’s involvement in our problems is not going to benefit the region, so we have to wonder what motivations he has to send his troops to fight in the intervention force,” says Bisimwa. “Go ask the locals here if they support us or not.”

We complied, but responses were as varied, contradictory and confusing as the DRC’s complex and ever-shifting political issues.

“We want South Africa to come and help us. They must beat M23 so we can return home,” a man from the rebel-held town of Ritchuru tells us when we visit the Mugunga refugee camp.

He says M23 rebels regularly rape women and force young boys to join their ranks.

But back in M23’s area of control itself, a local tells us the SANDF’s involvement and the intervention force is a bad idea. “They will cause much suffering and pain here. They will disrupt the peace,” the man says.

He adds that M23 is maintaining security in the area and is advancing economic growth, especially through agriculture.

The SANDF refused to talk to City Press during our stay in Goma – a directive we reliably learnt came directly from a top military leader in Pretoria – but we managed to speak to a

South African soldier deployed to an area shared with another rebel group.

“The locals here are afraid that if we leave, terrible things will happen to them. They know us and they trust us.

“My man, I have witnessed things no man should ever live to see,” the soldier said.

Local UN sources say the UN’s Great Lakes region special envoy, former Irish president Mary Robinson, will officially announce the activation of the intervention force this week.

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