Saturday, November 02, 2013

SADC drivers refuse to cross into Congo
By Abigail Chaponda and Noel Iyombwa in Kasumbalesa
Sat 05 Oct. 2013, 14:00 CAT

HUNDREDS of SADC drivers on Thursday refused to cross into the Republic of Congo (DRC) despite assurances from the Congolese consulate general Chantal Konji Malaba that safety will be guaranteed once they were in Congo.

And Malaba has apologised on behalf of her country to all African countries for the embarrassment and harassment they have suffered at the hands of Congolese.

A check by home affairs deputy minister Stephen Kampyongo and Malaba at Kasumbalesa border revealed a number of drivers still marooned on the Zambian side, waiting to be addressed by the head of SADC.

Kampyongo and Congolese officials held a meeting from 11:00 hours to 19:00 hours but the drivers refused to cross into Congo.

"The Congolese officials have assured you and guaranteed you of safety once you are in their country. Nothing will happen to you. I want some drivers to cross into Congo and come and give me a report if the situation of harassing you drivers will continue. I am sending you, so whatever happens, I will be held accountable. Please just cross over," Kampyongo told the drivers.

He said it was not safe for the trucks to be marooned for seven days in Chililabombwe because it was a security concern.

Kampyongo said the Zambian government was concerned about the killings and harassment of SADC drivers in Congo and wanted to make sure that they are safe.

"I am a leader and I know what I am talking about. I will not tell you to cross if I know that it is not safe. These officials have assured you. The trucks that are parked here are not supposed to be here because some are carrying fuel," he said.

Despite the assurance that they would be accompanied by police officers, the drivers vowed not to cross into DRC.
The situation almost became volatile when one of the drivers attempted to cross but was pounced on by fellow drivers, who grabbed his keys, and was only rescued by Zambian police officers. Two drivers were arrested but later released after interventions by Kampyongo.
The drivers complained that by asking them to cross into Congo, the Zambian government was sending them to their death.

"Minister, what you are asking us to do is to sacrifice ourselves to the Congolese people. You are telling us to go and die and leave our families. Please, just let us stay here in Zambia where it is safe, unlike you sending us to death," said a Zimbabwean driver.

The drivers demanded to be addressed by the head of SADC and to make sure that documents were signed to guarantee them safety in Congo.
And Malaba said what some Congolese were doing was uncalled for and embarrassing, especially that the people of Congo do not harass foreigners only but even fellow Congolese.

"Please, give Congo a second chance; we need you for survival. Right now, the President (Joseph Kabila) is working on putting measures to solve the crisis. If you don't go into our country, people will die because you bring medicine, food, fuel and things to keep us living," she said.

She said that once drivers did not deliver food into the country, a lot of innocent people would suffer because of a few selfish individuals.

Malaba promised that the drivers would be given, among other things, emergency toll-free numbers which could be used once they were harassed whether by civilians or military personnel.

She said there was no business going on in Congo because goods were stuck at Kasumbalesa border.

"I am giving you my word that I will escort you into Congo up to a certain point so that I can make sure that you are safe. I stay in Ndola but we have never been harassed. We have been to different countries in the SADC region but we have never been harassed. I am sorry for what is happening. Killing is bad and it should not be allowed. I am speaking like a mother, and no mother would want her child killed. Forgive Congo and give us a second chance, please," pleaded Malaba.

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