Wednesday, April 17th, 2024

Close this search box.

OBITUARY: Rebecca Masika Katsuva

No comment
Saturday, February 13th, 2016
No comment
Photograph: Fiona Lloyd-Davies

The Congolese human rights campaigner Rebecca Masika Katsuva, who has died suddenly aged 49, of malaria and high blood pressure, was known affectionately to many as “Mama Masika”. Attacked and raped during the wars that engulfed the Democratic Republic of Congo, she went on to campaign against rape as a weapon of war, and set up an organisation to help others who had similar experiences to her own.

Daughter of Sifa Mbunzu and Alfonse Katuba Kamate, she was born in Katana, a small, leafy town in South Kivu, in eastern Congo. She did not use her given name, Rebecca, as from 1971, under president Mobutu Sese Seko, it became an offence for Congolese people to use western names. She married Bosco Katsuva, a trader who regularly travelled on business while Masika ran their shop. They had a comfortable middle-class lifestyle.

Eastern Congo was at the heart of the conflict that reintensified in 1998, and in that year men in uniforms with guns broke into the Katsuva household. They looted the family’s possessions, killed Bosco, and raped Masika and her two daughters, who were then aged nine and 13. In the aftermath of the attack, Masika was disowned and cast out by her husband’s relatives and spent six months in hospital recovering from her injuries; and her two daughters became pregnant as a result of the assaults.

In spite of this, she remained strong and resilient. The following year she opened her home as a refuge centre of sorts to warzone rape survivors and their families. She travelled to villages which had been attacked to find other survivors who needed help. When she had the funds, she rented a field, where she began work with survivors, preparing the ground and planting seeds to grow crops to sell.

Masika’s organisation grew and in 2002 was renamed the Association des Personnes Déshéritées Unies pour le Développement (APDUD). Now, it has around 50 houses offering shelter and help to survivors of war and rape, a place to give birth, raise children and tell their stories. Masika’s campaigning work has ensured that these accounts have been heard by aid workers, international organisations, in the Congolese diaspora and by others who are working to end the use of rape as a weapon of war. Masika herself adopted 18 children born from sexual assaults.

Her mother assisted with the work of APDUD, until she was raped and killed. These were the years when being a woman in Congo was just as dangerous as being a member of an armed militia; countless numbers died or were left disabled, displaced, traumatised and pregnant.

In 2009, a group of militia men came looking for Masika because she had been speaking out about their attacks on Congolese women. They raped and beat her again. It was the fourth time she had been raped by rebel soldiers since 1998. But still Masika remained full of hope. Early last year she told me: “Vava, we need some sewing machines. We had five; three have broken down and one has been stolen.” I promised to send her some. When I telephoned again a few months later, she asked me to concentrate on getting them a van. She explained that they needed something to help them get their harvest from the farm to the market.

She kept on making a personal difference to the lives of Congolese women and their families. In 2010, Masika was given the Ginetta Sagan award for women’s and children’s rights by Amnesty International, along with a grant of $10,000, in recognition of “one woman’s ability to make a tangible and positive change among chaos and insecurity”.

Photograph: Fiona Lloyd-Davies

I first encountered Masika that year, when I was asked by friends to translate a video clip brought back from South Kivu province in which she spoke about her experiences. The story left us shaken and determined to do something. The clip was turned into a YouTube documentary, Unwatchable: Rape in Congo, which restaged Masika’s ordeal in a leafy London suburb using white actors. We wanted to ask a simple question: if this would be unacceptable in London, why allow it to happen in Congo?

In 2013 Masika was the subject of Fiona Lloyd-Davies’s documentary film Seeds of Hope, which was shown at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict held in London in 2014.

Masika is survived by her four daughters, and a grandson, Steve.

Rebecca Masika Katsuva, human rights campaigner, born 26 May 1966; died 2 February 2016



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *