Etienne Kabila looks sharp in a red check shirt and glasses, not quite like you’d imagine a rebel leader or a man who came out of prison a month ago would look.
The namesake of the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo denies being a rebel leader – a charge that cost him 22 months behind bars in Pretoria Central.
The accusation that he was plotting a coup against Joseph Kabila, he claims, was an elaborate hoax by South African intelligence agents to remove him from the picture. Etienne disagrees with the way Joseph Kabila acquired power in 2001 following the assassination of Laurent Kabila.
Etienne, incidentally, also claims to be the real son of Laurent while he says Joseph was an imposter because he really was adopted from Rwandan parents.
With Laurent Kabila having lived in exile in Tanzania for a while and Etienne claiming to have been raised by his mother in the DRC, this may or may not be true.
On November 28 a group of 15 Congolese men who were supposed accomplices to Etienne were told by the Pretoria Magistrates’ Court there was not enough evidence to prosecute them, and after almost two years in prison, they were free to go.
Four other men, however, also all Congolese, were to remain in prison while Etienne was given bail of R10 000, apparently without asking. Their case resumes on January 26. They are still facing charges of amassing a weapons cache in order to establish an assassin’s training camp, and Etienne quietly nods with a half certain smile if asked whether they would go free.
He must be either bullish or desperate, because accused people often wait until their case is over before speaking out.
The four others, Etienne claims, were paid by intelligence to put together the scheme, find the 15 men, and present them as coup plotters.
He blames President Jacob Zuma’s closeness to Joseph Kabila for the case.
Etienne tells City Press in French through an interpreter that president Kabila wanted him out of the picture and the South Africans were happy to help.
“Zuma’s nephew Khulubuse has mining companies in Katanga, and they are making a lot of money,” he said, also repeating allegations that the 2011 poll in the DRC was rigged with the help of South Africa, where the ballot papers were printed.
“There is also that personal interest there, this is why I am saying the way I was arrested, was politically motivated. People can’t do two years in jail and then they say there is no evidence,” he said.
He doesn’t want to tell all. That he leaves for his press conference, planned for tomorrow at the Loreto School in Queenswood, Pretoria.
Etienne said he fled the DRC 13 years ago after making the adoption claims in a press conference in 2001 after Joseph Kabila took over the presidency by means of what Etienne described as a “coup d’etat” – in constitutional terms.
“I was supposed to be killed. That is why I left Congo Kinshasa (the DRC) to Congo Brazzaville and then to South Africa,” he said. Here he claimed refugee status.
He took part in the South African-facilitated Congolese peace talks in Sun City in 2002 and repeated his stance about Joseph Kabila. “Now I was the number one enemy of Joseph,” he said.
When asked why someone would concoct such an elaborate hoax just to get at one man when it was cheaper and easier to kill someone in South Africa, he said: “It is not easy to kill, you must be prepared. And everyone will know what you did.”
Etienne says he worked as a coordinator in an information network for presidential security for Laurent Kabila, as well as an economist in the DRC, but as a refugee in South Africa he was doing “any job to survive”.
President Jacob Zuma’s spokesperson Mac Maharaj did not respond to questions by the time of publishing.
DRC ambassador in Pretoria, Bene M’poko, said the embassy did not get involved in the case at all. “They were arrested by the South African police for a crime committed on South African soil and they went to a South African court. We left it to the South African judiciary system. If they say he’s (Etienne Kabila) not guilty, he’s not guilty, and if they say he’s guilty, he’s guilty. We didn’t play any role, we are staying far from it.”
He said Etienne’s followers were accusing the embassy of asking the South African authorities to arrest him. M’poko said initially the embassy employed lawyers to observe the case on their behalf to ensure justice was done, but he said the lawyers received threats and stopped going to the case.
He denied that the embassy had put pressure on the South African authorities to arrest and prosecute Etienne Kabila. “It is ridiculous to think the embassy can instruct the police,” he said.