Mozambique: death of rapper and activist mobilise protest and police violence

Photo of the demonstration – Maputo City – taken by Dércio Tsandzana (March 2023)

Edson da Luz, known as Azagaia, was one of the most prominent rap artists in Mozambique. He died on March 9, 2023, at the age of 38 after having an epilepsy attack. His music was relevant in several Lusophone countries.

Azagaia became known for advocating social causes through his critical music against the way politicians rule in Mozambique. Several times, Azagaia was arrested or summoned by the Mozambican authorities because of his music, as an affront to the ruling political power. One of the instances dates back to 2016 when the artist's performance was cancelled for no apparent reason.

Reactions to Azagaia's death came from fans everywhere, above all young people and citizens who found through his music a form of freedom of expression in Mozambique, with lamentations and sadness over the rapper's death. From the Mozambican authorities, the minister of culture, Eldevina Materula, said she was “extremely shocked”:

Sem dúvida que a música e a cultura moçambicana estão de luto. O mundo perdeu um ‘rapper’ único…

Without a doubt, Mozambican music and culture are in mourning. The world has lost a unique rapper…

Young people and groups of citizens organised themselves to show their admiration and esteem for the rapper, promoting vigil and solidarity acts for the artist and his family, whether in Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, or Cape Verde.

Angola🇦🇴 and Mozambique🇬🇾
Our disagreements and competitions on social media are nothing more than #brother_talk, when the matter is serious we unite and become one. In the photos, Vigil night in honour of Rapper Azagaia at Angola🇦🇴. #PEOPLEINPOWER

On the day of his burial, which took place on March 14, several people came together to the memorial services to say goodbye to the rapper.

The youthful mass in weight at the farewell of bro #Azagaia in Independence Square
People in power ✊🏽❤️🇲🇿

However, when the supporters went to the cemetery, they were stopped by the police who blocked one of the passages through which the funeral procession was supposed to pass, forcing the group to change their route although no one was arrested. To justify that action, the police said that the group used a prohibited street:

Azagaia's funeral procession conditioned. Rapper's widow and daughters get out of car and ask police to pass #azagaia

As a way of paying further tribute to the rapper, peaceful demonstrations were organised in different capital cities of Mozambique on March 18, including the capital Maputo.

We have the official dispatch from the Maputo Municipal Council: there is nothing to prevent the march from taking place this Saturday, the 18th. #Avancemos #PovonoPoderono #Azagaia

Mozambique, PRESENT ✊🏾🇲🇿

However, on that day there were reports of acts of police obstruction, violence, and torture against citizens who wanted to honour Azagaia. Without apparent or justified reason, the Police of the Republic of Mozambique used force, including tear gas, to disperse the demonstrators who peacefully tried to demonstrate.

There was no reason for the police action, as the march had been duly reported. Reports of the police action were made widely on social media:

It was supposed to be a peaceful march. A simple walk. It wasn't to protest against the high cost of living or anything like that. It was to honor a dead rapper. Why so much violence against civilians? Do we want to create insurgents in the centre and south as well? Time bomb?

Using tear gas and dogs, the police of the Republic of Mozambique prevented the march in honour of rapper and musician Azagaia. Dozens of people were arrested following the police intervention, despite the Maputo Municipality giving the green light for the march to take place.

The negative balance is beginning to surface. A note: In more democratic countries where these demonstrations always take place, the population already knows how to defend themselves from police atrocities. We will learn little by little.

Amnesty International has repudiated the events, calling for those responsible for the violence to be held accountable:

A polícia deve abster-se de visar mais os manifestantes, incluindo a sua detenção arbitrária e o seu envolvimento em actos de violência retaliatória contra os manifestantes pacíficos.

As autoridades devem investigar rapidamente a polícia que prendeu pessoas em Maputo e as sujeitou a espancamentos e assegurar que sejam responsabilizadas pela violação dos direitos humanos dos manifestantes, incluindo o direito internacional.

The police should refrain from further targeting protesters, including by arbitrarily detaining them and engaging in acts of retaliatory violence against peaceful protesters.

The authorities should swiftly investigate the police who arrested people in Maputo and subjected them to beatings and ensure that they are held accountable for violating the human rights of protesters, including international law.

After the acts of violence, an online petition was circulated to inform the world about what was happening in Mozambique. At the time of going to press, the signatures exceeded 16,000:

Sign this petition! And share as much as you can. Let's let the world know what's happening.

After the events, the police authorities claimed that they repressed the demonstrations because they could cause violence and acts of coup d'état. Demonstrators deny these claims, as say it was a peaceful demonstration.

*The police reaction does not appear in the original text and has been added in the translated version.

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