JOHANNESBURG - Julius Malema, known as president of South Africa's African National Congress Youth League, was recently in Zimbabwe, crowing about intensifying a campaign to "confiscate" mines and farms in South Africa, policies that the limp-wristed ANC, the governing party, says is not on its agenda.
Zimbabwe, a failed state, is an ideal tourist ground for Malema. The country is a glowing example of how a thriving African economy can be destroyed in a decade. Malema, volunteering to "education", lauded president Robert Mugabe's progress in reducing among the continent's most productive farms to weed infested wastelands, and drooled over plans to seize mines, or chunks of them.
In his next sortie into the continent, Malema could tour the Democratic Republic of the Congo, another failed state. The world's most loved tourist could kick off in the Kivu provinces to the west of Lake Kivu, where he will find mines that have been nationalised by a mixture of government and gangsters, if the difference between the two can be noticed.
At selected locations there Malema will find that former rebels from the Congrès national pour la défense du peuple (CNDP) have established, in the words of Global Witness, an NGO, "mafia-style extortion rackets covering some of the most lucrative tin and tantalum mining areas in the Congo".
The ex-CNDP rebels, who joined the national army in a totally chaotic integration process during 2009, have taken advantage, says Global Witness, of UN-backed government offensives aimed at displacing the FDLR militia from profitable mine sites. "They have gained far greater control of mining areas than they ever enjoyed as insurgents, and in many cases have retained their old command structures and political agenda", as Global Witness puts it.
The Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) is a predominantly Hutu militia whose members are alleged to include perpetrators of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, when around 800 000 people were slaughtered, mainly with hand weapons.
Global Witness campaigner Annie Dunnebacke, recently back from a month in eastern DRC, states: "Last year's high profile offensives against the FDLR paved the way for high-ranking elements of the ex-CNDP to gain and consolidate access to mineral wealth. Control of the mines has effectively been transferred from one group of armed thugs to another - the main difference being that the new ones are wearing the national army's uniform".
Global Witness found that ex-CNDP fighters now in charge of the 212th national army brigade are pocketing tens of thousands of dollars per month from illegal taxes imposed on civilians working in and around Bisie, eastern Congo's largest cassiterite (tin ore) mine. Most of these funds, says Global Witness, are channelled directly to ex-CNDP senior officers, including brigade commander Colonel Yussuf Mboneza, and to other high-ranking elements of the national army.
In some parts of North Kivu, former CNDP commanders are running a parallel administration - effectively "a state within a state" - through which, found Global Witness, they are illegally levying taxes on the mineral trade and other goods. The central government has virtually no authority in these areas.
"Global Witness found that the brunt of the extortion and abuse is borne by the region's civilian population. At the Muhinga cassiterite mine in South Kivu, diggers told researchers that they are forced to pay $10 each to the military for permission to spend a night working in the mineshafts. Diggers, many of whom are children, also have to pay the army to use dynamite and are forced to hand over an entire day's production each Thursday.
"In Muhinga, workers told us they are whipped and robbed by soldiers if they fail to pay up. The army should be protecting civilians, instead they are crippling them with illegal taxes and abuse," said Emilie Serralta of Global Witness.
MONUC, the UN mission in the country, reckons that in the DRC, 1 500 people die "each day, half of them under the age of five - mostly from preventable diseases and dirty water". That's about half a million dead people a year, in a country where Mobutu, the now-deceased dictator, used to fly in from Europe jetliners filled with his favourite soda pops.
Write to Barry Sergeant: firstname.lastname@example.org