It’s a mystery that has roiled Angola. In mid-April, security forces tried to arrest a sect leader at a mountain compound, but the botched operation descended into violence. The authorities claim 13 sect members were killed, while opposition parties and human rights activists claim that hundreds of followers were in fact massacred. Since the operation, the mountain has been sealed off, leading to widespread speculation. Now, a new video appears to show the police clean-up that followed the killings.
The sect, called the Seventh Day Light of the World Church, was formed 14 years ago after a pastor named José Kalupeteka split from the Seventh Day Adventist Church. It has thousands of followers, concentrated mainly in the country’s south. In the past years, followers have set up several compounds; it is at one of these camps, located on mount Sumi in Huambo province, that the operation took place on April 16.
Police and military units surrounded the camp with the aim of arresting Kalupeteka. However, violence broke out, and that’s where the official version of events and those of activists diverge. According to the authorities, 13 “snipers” from the sect attacked the police, killing nine officers, and that is why they were killed in return.
However, local witnesses – both from the sect and from within the ranks of the police and military – told a very different story to human rights activists. In this version, the security forces committed a veritable massacre.
Last week, a video emerged that appears to concur with the activists’ version of events. It was sent to one of our Observers by a police officer, who wished to stay anonymous. He says it was filmed on April 17, a day after the attack on the compound. In the video, policemen can be seen moving several bodies in a wooded area. In the background, what appear to be makeshift huts are burning. A police officer can be heard saying:
“Is there one left?”
“Ah… If you can, throw fire on him…” (In Portuguese, this can be taken to mean either “set him on fire” or “shoot him”.)
"Police officers who were present described a manhunt"
This video appears genuine, since there have not been any other recent incidents of this kind – involving the police, dead bodies, and a wooded area. [Editor’s Note: Other Angolan Observers we contacted offered the same analysis]. Moreover, the foliage of the spot it was filmed in matches photos taken on the scene by journalists from official press agencies, who were recently taken there under police escort. [Editor’s Note: Angola’s media is known for being very strictly censored.] Finally, what the officers are heard saying in the video matches what police officers I have spoken with tell me happened.
Due to my work as a whistleblower, several police officers and military men involved in the operation – but who did not approve of what happened – have contacted me to tell me what they saw. Their stories all matched. This is the scenario they described: a large contingent of police officers and security forces went to the mountain to arrest the sect’s leader and dismantle the camp. There were about 3,000 of his followers on the mountain, and they were in the middle of a day of prayers, so a small group of officers went up first to try to convince Kalupeteka to surrender. But when he refused to be handcuffed, his followers tried to intervene, and a police officer shot his gun.
That’s when mayhem apparently broke out, and his followers killed several of the officers with machetes; one was shot, possibly by friendly fire. Hearing the gunfire, the backup forces arrived and started shooting randomly into the gathered crowd, which included women and children. I was also able to speak to several survivors who managed to escape, and they told me that people tried to scatter and hide, all the while singing hymns, but the police continued shooting. Apparently, realizing that nobody in the crowd had guns, the military quickly stopped shooting, as per their training. The police, however, continued.
The mountain is not far from a major road, on which the authorities had set up roadblocks. Police officers told me that some of them took pity on fleeing women and children and let them go through, but others were not so kind. They said that a real manhunt ensued throughout the mountain, with officers shooting to kill.
“Police looted the camp … and took the bodies to bury them in scattered locations”
With survivors going into hiding, it is unclear how many people were killed altogether. But from my sources’ descriptions of the carnage, the opposition’s claim that more than a thousand people were massacred does not seem exaggerated.
The officers I spoke to said that in the following days, they looted the camp, taking livestock, money, generators – all sorts of belongings. They burned huts, cars, and motorcycles, and took the bodies away to bury them in scattered locations. They wanted to make sure nobody would find them. Meanwhile, a special unit is searching the phones of officers who were present to make sure no more images are leaked.
The sect’s leader was taken into custody, and appeared on state television Tuesday to say he was being well treated. His lawyer, David Mendes, says he has not been allowed to contact him. (Mendes, who is a renowned human rights defender, also represents Morais, who is currently fighting libel charges after he accused several high profile generals of being responsible for the abuse of diamond mine employees.)
Ever since the operation, Mount Sumi has been on lockdown, with the police preventing independent journalists or activists from gaining access to the site. A few days ago, they finally allowed members of an opposition party, Casa-CE, onto the mountain. They were escorted by police. However, despite this, the Casa-CE delegation said they found traces of a massacre, notably lots of discarded clothing with blood stains. They called for an independent investigation.
France 24 has contacted Angola’s police spokesperson for comment, but they have not yet replied.
A sect with rebellious tendencies
Morais says that the Seventh Day Light of the World church had been growing quickly in recent years:
Kalupeteka had no formal education, but he is a gifted orator and a very popular singer. His CDs sell very well in the south. According to leaders of the Adventist church I’ve spoken with, though he calls himself a prophet, his beliefs are not very different from theirs; it seems he formed his own sect chiefly because he wanted more power than the church would give him. Like many sects, members gave money, and some of them were reportedly convinced into selling their homes and belongings. [Editor’s note: The state-controlled press has accused the sect of all sorts of strange beliefs that followers deny, and interviewed psychologists who describe Kalupeteka as a “madman”].
For a long time, the authorities seemed to have no problem with him. But as Kalupeteka’s popularity shot up, he became an increasingly vocal critic of government policies. Notably, last year, he asked his followers not to participate in the national census, which many activists decried as a ploy to gather intelligence – with good reason. For example, census workers wanted to see how many computers I had in my house, and when I refused to participate, they spent days sitting on a chair outside.
In any case, he was suddenly a thorn in the government’s side. If, for example, he had called for his numerous followers not to vote in the next elections, it would pose difficulties for the government in the south.