By Frederick Golooba-Mutebi
July 16 2016
Some years ago, while living and working in one of South Africa’s poorer regions somewhere in what used to be Gazankulu Homeland, when the country was still under apartheid, I chanced upon a young man who wanted to be a policeman.
I made the discovery while he and I were discussing his then recent incarceration. He had been arrested with many of his mates in the village. It turned out they had committed an act of serious arson, burning down the home of one of the more prosperous local residents.
It was an interesting little community in which belief in witchcraft, witchcraft accusations, and witchcraft-related killings and destruction of property, were fairly common.
In this particular case, the young men suspected the elderly woman of having bewitched two of their comrades, one of whom was her step-grandson.
It was a strange accusation. The two boys had been shot dead while trying to break into a house whose owner happened to possess a gun. What made the accusations even more illogical to one not give to taking witchcraft seriously, was that the killing had taken place more than 700 kilometres away, in the country’s capital city, Johannesburg.
Anyway, the young men had gone off and bought petrol and set the house alight, hoping to incinerate the owner in the process. The woman escaped unhurt. And then came the police, to look for and arrest the suspects. A large number of young men were rounded up.
A few returned to the village hours later, the others, my interlocutor among them, after several days in detention.
I waited a few more days before venturing to find out from the boys what had motivated their actions and what had happened at the police station.
Well, behind their actions was a longwinded story of inter- and intra-family rivalries, feuds, and suspicion, low-grade village gossip, and a good dose of teenage silliness. As for what had happened at the police station, they had been “beaten seriously.”
It was after listening to how they had arrived at the conclusion that their victim was guilty of practising witchcraft, how they had plotted to burn her house down, the arrests and subsequent beatings that I asked him what he wanted to do in life. He had a very clear idea of his dream job. He wanted to be a cop.
At which point I wanted to know why. The answer staggered me. He wanted to be a policeman so that “I can beat people up.”
Last week I was reminded of this conversation by a number of incidents in Uganda’s capital, Kampala. The incidents involved elements of the Uganda Police Force and ordinary citizens.
In one incident, a police vehicle was escorting opposition leader Kiiza Besigye back to his house after a stint in jail.
As has become customary, Dr Besigye’s supporters, admirers and sympathisers came out to cheer as he went by, doing his usual jig of standing up in his car and flashing the victory sign.
No evidence has come to light that those who were simply looking on, passers-by and those who couldn’t resist cheering, were guilty of breaching any of Uganda’s laws.