Kabila Assumes Control of Zaire
Salvation Army Forces Hold
Firm in Revolutionary Change
Ending a seven-month civil war in Africa’s third-largest nation, rebel leader Laurent Kabila’s guerrillas marched into Kinshasa, Zaire, on Saturday, May 17, and quickly took control of the city and country. Kabila stated he was assuming power immediately as Zaire’s head of state, calling that country the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Earlier, Kinshasa had been quiet, waiting for the outcome of talks with President Mobutu Sese-Seko and rebel leader Kabila. A curfew had been in place between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., and Kabila had given the president until Saturday to leave.
“In a personal telephone call, we learned that at 1 a.m. on Friday, a line of Zairian troops and two tanks surrounded The Salvation Army’s Territorial Headquarters compound in the center of the city,” said Major Carol Pontsler. “Ostensibly there to protect Salvation Army personnel and property, their presence gave evidence to the tension felt by many. There were many international troops across the river in Brazzaville, Congo–more than necessary for evacuations–and they were heavily armed. If trouble broke out, they would move quickly into Kinshasa. Salvationists were being careful in their movements around the city and clearly waited to see what would happen.”
Pontsler and her husband, Major Robert Pontsler, are the parents of Zaire Territorial Finance Secretary Captain Kelly Pontsler. Kelly has been out of Zaire for the past month, and is due home May 23 on end-of-term furlough.
“With Chief Secretary John Hassard on homeland furlough, Lt. Colonel Edna Williams, a British officer serving as secretary to the territorial commander, is the only expatriate officer remaining in Kinshasa,” reports Mrs. Pontsler, “although two expatriate laypersons who have been serving with the Health Services clinics outside Kinshasa are now living on the compound.
“Last evening, Williams received a warning call from the British Embassy.” Her expressed witness, that “the Lord called me here; I’ve spent half of my life here and–in a sense–this is one way we can prove we believe what we teach: that we have peace in our hearts in spite of what happens. Therefore, I will stay.”
For the moment, the Army is quite limited in what help it can give to refugees, most of whom are far away on the eastern side of the country. Although some children have been seen in the nutrition programs, “It is a political problem, and relationships are ‘very touchy’,” Williams remarked.
Officers in Kananga and Shaba have reported to territorial headquarters that life has some sense of normalcy under the rebel leadership. However, “things have really gone downhill throughout the country since 1971,” according to Williams. “We used to have starving children. Now we have starving adults.”
Williams expressed her gratitude for the prayers of Salvationists in the Western Territory: “We are very, very conscious of the fact that only God can help us and save us. We are very aware of the power of prayer. In the past, when everything has gone crazy, we have sensed the Hand of God over us and we trust him at this moment.”
The city of Kinshasa is home to Zaire and Angola Territorial Headquarters. The first Salvation Army corps was established in Kinshasa in 1934, and today there are 149 corps and 389 outposts. Senior soldiers total more than 15,000, with nearly 5,000 adherents and 7,000 Junior soldiers. The territory is under the leadership of Commissioner Zunga-Mbanza Bimwala.