The student massacre!

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Paul Mandela Kamara

18 August 2022

Brother Sirajin, tears welled my eyes each time I recall the events of 18 August 1997. And they come in the wake of another bloody massacre of yet unknown casualties including Evangelist Samson, Master and so many others, apparently killed in cold-blood.

As you stated, Sahr Kortequi, President of Comahs and Egerton Macarthy at IPAM who mobilized students; mainly from Njala University College to resist the butchery and extra-judicial executions carried out on a daily basis by the AFRC-RUF. Of course, For di People and Panafu; especially our great freedom fighter and pan-africanist revolutionary hero, Olu Richie Gordon was at the forefront.

Barely two weeks after my return from London and on crutches; president Kabbah was overthrown by the AFRC-RUF. For di People newspaper and sister organisation; The National League for Human Rights and Democracy; then launched the civil disobedience campaign. I’d merely survived death by a whisker under NPRC 2; and Dr Swee Chai Ang of the Independent Hospital in London said it was a miracle I was alive!

The morning of 18 August, lawyer Sulaiman Banja Tejan-Sie a member of our human rights wing was captured by the rebels close to his Kennedy St residence. We were however undeterred; and continued to release volleys of scathing and volatile articles against the murderous junta. Richie decided to join Kortequi; and like a lame duck as usual; I was busy working on the next day’s edition.

With many hundreds of others, Vannie Konneh, an Njala University College student, hit the streets on 18 August 97 to demand that the illegal military junta hand back power to the elected democratic govt. The junta began the killing as early as 9:30 am that day. The first death was at Savage St, near the Up Gun assembly point, where a young man had his arm hacked off. He later died from shock and loss of blood.

The enduring memory, the defining moment of that awful day was when the rebels cut off the boy’s arm, licked off the blade. Yes, it was a day for vampires and cannibals. Vaffie was amongst a group of students who moved from the Brookfields assembly point after the early morning arrest of Sahr Kortequi, of the National Union of Salone Students organisers, who planned the demonstration. Vaffie and the group came down to the Nurses Hostels on Lightfoot-Boston St in an attempt to rally the nursing students.

The rebels arriving in a blue pick-up truck, stormed the area around 11:20 am. The students scattered. Vaffie apparently hid in the Nurse Hostel bus. The rebels found him, shot him down and proceeded to mutilate the body. It was apparently not sufficient to kill – they also needed to desecrate the dead. At least, six students were slaughtered on that day. Many innocent by-standers were injured. Hundreds of students and youths were arrested and tortured.

But in their treatment of women, the RUF-AFRC junta exceeded even their usual standards of bestiality. Some female students who hid in the Hostel were found, stripped naked and taken to Defence headquarters. From there they were distributed to the houses of top AFRC-RUF personnel. Many of these ladies chose not to speak of the sexual abuse that followed. One of them brave enough to do so is an Njala student whom we called “M” to protect her identity.  Here is her story.

“They took me to Zagallo’s house. I was still stark naked. Even though I was on my period, with blood streaming down my legs, they refused to give me a cloth to cover myself. They just laughed at me. Zagallo abused me and called me a prostitute. He told one of his officers to beat me with his belt. When he finished, they threw water on me and took me to Zagallo’s room. There he raped me several times. When he finished, he called his orderly. ‘Come and take her. Unu sef enjoy yah. Na College pikin. Esweet!” They roughly hauled me downstairs. Three of them took turns in raping me.”

M was held for over two weeks. For the first three days, she was not allowed to wear any clothes. Anyone of Zagallo’s brutes who wanted to rape her was allowed to.

22- year old Anne Marie Turay of Mountain Cut went into coma after she was sexually assaulted by six armed men at a block in the Mamy Yoko hotel. She was left bleeding profusely with serious vaginal pains and wounds and find it difficult to walk.

“They took me to one of the blocks within the Mamy Yoko hotel compound. I was immediately stripped and they took turns. By the time the third man was through, I fell unconscious.”

For di People newspaper incessantly condemned the 25 May coup and called for the restoration of constitutional legality and in the wake of unspeakable brutality and massacres, the newspaper declared civil disobedience against the AFRC-RUF. FDP urged the rebels to also seize the opportunity of the Yamassoukro talks with both hands; viewing it as a countdown to peace talks. The people’s willingness to sacrifice for democracy was proved at Bintumani 1 and 2.

It was tested and it stood firm during the disgraceful and murderous attacks on 26 February 96. And the people with few exceptions, have demonstrated to the AFRC-RUF that they prefer democracy with all its faults – to the uncertainties and insecurity of military rule. For our selfless commitment to human rights and democracy; the British-based International Press Directory Freedom of the Press Gold Award went to FDP newspaper. It was collected by then secretary general of the SLPP, lawyer Sulaiman Banja Tejan-Sie ( while the govt was in self-exile in Guinea), at the prestigious Dorchester Hotel in London. On 13 October 2001, the Northcote Parkinson Fund now John Train Foundation, whose Chairman the Soviet nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn, awarded Paul Kamara: the Civil Prize Award for fighting tyranny in Sierra Leone and for steadfast resistance to evil at great personal risk.

I believe the SLPP Paopanistas must bear this in mind, and not derail the nation’s sacred struggle for democracy, human rights and constitutional legality. Let’s not forget those who lost their lives for Salone’s democracy and freedom; including those in the recent extra-judicial executions.

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