In the West, one might not consider becoming a soldier at the age of 13, but in Africa, gun-free zones make this a reality.
“To take a village, we would capture someone from the village, get all the details of the layout and where the people are. We would then go into the jungle, surround the village and attack. Fleeing men would be shot, women raped and young boys forced to join our movement.”
Jean Botuli Kazadi was born in 1981 and at the tender age of 13 joined the Zaire (renamed Democratic Republic of Congo in 1997) Defense Force of Mobutu Sese Seko. Mobutu came to power after deposing Joseph Kasavubu in 1965.
“They changed our birthdates on all documenttion so that the army could not be accused of using child soldiers,” Jean comments.
Jean lived with his father, mother and brothers in the diamond-rich town of Mbuji-Mayi. Rebel soldiers murdered his parents.
An urgent call came through from the east of Congo (in 1998) for reinforcements to help the defense force against one of the rebel movements. Jean and his unit were immediately dispatched by airplane to Kisangani. When they landed their plane, they discovered that they were surrounded by the rebels. The rebels announced that they would be joining the ranks of the movement. Some protested and were immediately executed. The rest obeyed.
During his time as a rebel, Jean and the others received no pay, just food.
“I don’t know why we raped the women; there was just something that made us go crazy,” Jean confesses. He knows that their food was drugged.
Enemy soldiers captured were interrogated for information regarding their unit. Rifle fire, designed to intimidate, blazed next to them. Those who co-operated were sent to Kigali, Rwanda, and those who did not were executed.
When the war turned against the rebels, they would try to find witches who would give them muti (medicine) to protect their lives.
“We were put in the frontline of the battle. In front of us was the enemy, behind us were our leaders who would kill us if we tried to flee.”
When they ran out of ammunition, they would phone headquarters with a satellite phone, and within three hours two Americans would fly in with a light aircraft, carrying supplies of arms and ammunition. The couriers were dressed in civilian clothes but had their names and the U.S. flag above their shirt pockets.
Jean says that when he was a young boy, he was a Christian. He backslid when joining the army and was forced, against his will, to join the rebel movement.
While still a rebel, Jean went to visit a sick lady. She was being prayed for by her church friends. He heard about the “Come and See Church.” On visiting the church, he was confronted with the Gospel of Jesus Christ again; he repented of his sin and turned back to God.
“I’m a new creature,” he says with a smile.
Jean firmly believes that all his sins have been forgiven. Last April, his spiritual father, Pastor Physton Mbayo, baptized him. A month later his 4-week-old baby son was dedicated to the Lord.
How could things have been different had the local population been armed? Jean smiles, “Things would have been much more difficult for us.”
The pillaging, raping and murder could have only gone on unabated because the rebels were operating in a gun-free zone.
In 2006, before the first elections in 40 years, the rebels handed in their weapons and were supposed to have been repatriated to their hometowns.
Jean explains that they waited for days at the airport to be flown back home to Mbuji-Mayi, but this never happened.
After re-dedicating his life to Christ, Jean now wants to stay close to his spiritual father. He would like to visit his brothers, though.
Jean’s dreams and aspirations: “I would like to own a piece of land, raise animals and do business.”
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Charl van Wyk used his .38 special revolver to save lives in his church after attackers entered the building and began shooting. He is the author of “Shooting Back: The Right and Duty of Self Defense”.