The remains of Musu Conteh, a former housekeeper working for the catering and housekeeping firm ATS a subsidiary of African Minerals Limited (AML) allegedly killed by a police bullet in the recent workers’ strike at Bumbuna will be buried today at her family residence at Goderich village outside Freetown.
Parents, family members, loved ones, friends and sympathisers will throughout today reflect on the incidents of Wednesday, 18th April 2012 when Musu Conteh was gunned down allegedly by an unidentified constable of the Operational Support Division (OSD) during the recent strike action by workers of AML which also left thirteen people with serious gunshot injuries.
The strike by AML workers was aimed at an improved condition of service for Sierra Leonean workers who were believed to be working under “very unfavourable conditions” at the mines as against their foreign counterparts. The strike action which started off peacefully turned out violent when personnel of the OSD in Makeni and Magburaka were unleashed on the harmless strikers using what many Sierra Leoneans have described as “disproportionate use of fire arms” in their quest to put down the strike at all cost.
It was in the course of this overwhelming use of force and the “disproportionate use of fire power” that Musu Conteh received a bullet on her right chest just below her right set of ribs.
According to eye witnesses, the deceased was in front of her colleagues marching when they were suddenly stopped by a detachment of OSD personnel said to have been brought in from Makeni and Magburaka and a line of demarcation drawn before them not to cross.
Eye witness recount further that during the negotiations between the police and the strikers, the said unidentified Police Constable from Makeni, allegedly made threatening comments to Musu and warning her to stay back or face the wrong side of his gun which was said to be in an already firing position.
Eye witnesses maintain that Musu responded to the Constable that they were harmless and that they were merely demanding for better working conditions and nothing else, as the group attempted to cross the ‘death zone’ established by the police.
A friend of Musu, Abie (not her real name) explained that the constable retorted in a cracking voice “go back or we will shoot you!”
Musu according to Abie responded further by telling the police officer that no threatening remark will deter them from their resolve, and reportedly stated that if it means that they were going to die for their rights so be it, but that the fact of the matter is that they are demanding something that rightly is their rights and that they were not going anywhere until their demands were met.
”These were the very last words my friend and before we knew it, there was a loud sound and Musu fell. All of us started running in different directions,” Abie narrated.
She furthered that a while later, Musu was picked up by some of her colleagues and was rushed to the hospital but that she died before they reached the hospital.
An old man in Bumbuna town said the police cannot in any way extricate themselves from the killing of “that poor girl” and the wounding of thirteen citizens who were merely protesting for what is due them.
Former colleagues and friends resident in Makeni have continued to send messages of condolence to the family of the late Musu Conteh. Another friend who was not at Bumbuna when the strike unfolded described Musu as friendly and a determined woman who saw the problems of her friends as her own problem.
“We will always remember Musu for her sweet smiles and sacrifices for her friends,” the friend who wants to be anonymous remarked.
Meanwhile, the workers are calling on government to institute an independent investigation panel that will include Civil Society groups like SLAJ and Campaign for Good Governance “to independently look into the circumstances that led to the alleged murder of Musu and the wounding of over a dozen of their colleagues on that fateful day.
In a related development, a Government delegation mandated to calm the situation at Bumbuna on 20th April called on the protesters to see reason and hold on their strike action in order to return the chiefdom to normalcy. It was agreed at that first encounter that police should unconditionally release all arrested persons during the course of the protest, all locals in surrounding hills and bush should come down and continue their business.
The Government delegation is expected to visit Bumbuna today, 24th April for “an in-depth look” into workers’ allegations and concerns over their conditions of service including salaries, allowances and part time rates among others.
The meeting today will attract not only government officials, workers and African Minerals management only but very senior descendants from the chiefdom who have expressed great concern over the activities of the company; international and national press, civil society groups and chiefdom authorities will be in attendance.
Among the issues to be addressed will be that of the alleged low salary for Sierra Leonean workers who almost do equal jobs with their foreign counterparts but are receiving salaries that triple that received by Sierra Leoneans; workers to be fully registered with National Social Security and Insurance Trust scheme, payment for over time, training of more Sierra Leoneans to fit into the system, among other concerns.
By Mohamed Kabba