Over three years since a peaceful protest became a bloodbath in Madagascar’s capital, former president Marc Ravalomanana – a South African resident since fleeing his island country in March 2009 – faces charges of crimes against humanity. That's because earlier this year a court ruled the National Prosecuting Authority of South Africa must investigate foreign nationals accused of such crimes. Survivors of the Antananarivo massacre are anxious for a ruling.
By Miriam Mannak, Johannesburg
“I heard an explosion. I thought it was a warning, but when I looked around me I saw only dead bodies. In front of me, I saw a young girl dying. She was between 18 and 22 years old,” Nathaniel Andriatsiferanarivo states in his affidavit.
He is one of the survivors of the 7 February 2009 massacre in Antananarivo and a member of the Association of Martyrs of Antaninarenina Square. That day, thousands of Malagasy gathered near the presidential palace on Antaninarenina Square to protest against their leader and his totalitarian, socially unjust and corrupt regime.
Amateur footage obtained by RNW shows how this peaceful demonstration was abruptly ended when the presidential guards opened fire from the palace. This happened shortly after discussions between the protestors’ spokespeople and government officials at the palace.
“Grenades were thrown from the palace and the shooting began,” Janine Rabetsitonta testifies. The 42-year-old widow, also a member of the Martyrs, was shot in the belly during the violence. She says: “I saw a general giving instructions to the military stationed near the protestors.”
South Africa is a signatory to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. As such, any former head of state residing in South Africa who is suspected of crimes against humanity can be investigated and prosecuted by South African authorities.
The first step towards a Ravalomanana investigation was made recently when a dossier thicker than a telephone book was handed over to South Africa’s director of public prosecutions.
Along with Nicolas’ and Janine’s accounts, the dossier comprises the sworn affidavits of 12 others – including that of Emilie Rakotondrandrion.
The mother of two was 23 years old when she was shot in the face, leaving her eye and nose severely damaged. “I was hit, fell down and fainted. I do not remember what followed,” she writes.
She was in hospital for two weeks. Although the scars are fading, Emilie can’t see and she has trouble breathing. She adds: “Because of this, I can’t financially support my children because I can’t go back to work.”
A tome of tragedies
While the affidavits form its bulk, the dossier also comprises graphic pictures, media accounts and research reports by human rights organizations on the February massacre.
Official statistics show that the violence claimed 43 lives and injured 170 people. Various sworn testimonies, however, suggest that more were killed and that attacks on civilians continued into the night.
It is generally understood that the shooting lasted a couple of minutes, after which the violence subsided.
From his hospital bed at night, Arnaud Rajaonarivelo would watch how guards attacked civilians. He witnessed this days after being hospitalized with a shot knee that resulted in his lower right leg being partially amputated.
“The soldiers then put the bodies into dumpsters and took them God knows where. Then they cleaned up the blood that covered the street,” he says.
Survivor Chantale Rakotomalala reports how protesters were chased for hours after the initial massacre. “They hunted us down in the streets of our neighbourhoods. We could not get out before six o’clock.”
So why has it taken so long for an investigation to even seem feasible?
David Erleigh, the Martyrs’ legal representative in South Africa, credits the ‘Zimbabwe Torture Case’ of May 2012.
“Earlier this month, the North Gauteng High Court ruled that the South African prosecuting authorities must investigate Zimbabwean officials who are accused of involvement in torture and crimes against humanity in Zimbabwe,” he explains.
“This ruling is a statement that South Africa is no longer a safe haven for people accused of crimes again humanity. The prosecuting authority is obliged to investigate. Based on this, they may or may not decide to try [Ravalomanana].”
As such, the investigation into Ravalomanana is not a question of if, but when.
Names of witnesses have been changed to protect their safety.