Buganda’s Kabaka Ronald Mutebi yesterday reportedly prematurely stopped the kingdom’s mourning ceremonies at Kasubi tombs after surging crowds threatened to break out into full stampede and yet two people had already been trampled to death in the mid-morning frenzy.
“The Kabaka decided to stop the function given the situation that the huge crowds had run out of control and [more people could have been killed],” Mr Dick Kasolo, the press secretary to the Kabaka, said yesterday.
Saturday Monitor understands that prepared speeches by assorted kingdom notables were thus cast aside in the interest of security.
The Uganda Red Cross reported that 110 people sustained injuries as the crowd pushed through a gate to have a glimpse at the Kabaka at the special prayers closing the week-long mourning period that followed last Tuesday night’s fire which razed the kingdom’s 130-old historic site.
Ms Catherine Ntabadde, the Red Cross communications officer, said the injured were rushed to Mulago Referral Hospital.
The Police officer who was in charge of security at Kasubi, Mr Vincent Ssekate, confirmed the dead as Harriet Namusisi of Kalerwe and another whose name was not available by press time. Mr Ssekate, however, gave the conflicting figure of 146 injured, 36 more than the Red Cross figure. He said 16 people were rushed to Mulago Hospital in critical condition.
Friday’s deaths, however, did little to dampen the festive mood that descended upon Kasubi.
People wearing an assortment of bark cloth hats, sashes, badges, ties and wrappers and carrying flags and banners danced in the streets, played drums, chanted and traditional sang songs of grief and praise.
It was a marked contrast to the angry and crying masses that swarmed here the day after the fire to prostrate before the still smouldering structure of the Muzibu Azaala Mpanga mausoleum which holds the remains of four Buganda kings.
One man clad in a traditional white kanzu and draped in bark cloth said: “I am so happy that so many people have come to enjoy themselves here today. This is a very important day for us and I thank God that we could all share it together.”
The streets surrounding the Kasubi tombs were packed so tightly that it was almost impossible to move, with people who failed to find space on the ground hanging off trees and scaling buildings to catch a better view of things.
The several VIP cars bringing guests including political and religious leaders crawled up Balintuma Road to the gates of the royal grounds that are listed as one of Uganda’s three world heritage sites by Unesco.
It was with the arrival of the Kabaka that the already surging crowds pressed forward into the grounds which were packed beyond capacity. Some people fainted and were carried away on stretchers to the Red Cross facility nearby. Inside, Buganda Kingdom officials including the Katikkiro John Baptist Walusimbi led the mourners.
The leaders of the four major religions in Uganda in turn offered their condolences to the Kabaka and the Baganda people. They called for calm and restoration of the kingdom’s property. They commended the Baganda for their show of togetherness.
Lead celebrant, Kampala Diocese Archbishop Dr Cyprian Kizito Lwanga said: “Bagandas’ love for their kingdom is natural and can’t be suppressed. Baganda should rebuild what has been destroyed, unite, repent and pray.”
Namirembe Bishop Wilberforce Kityo Luwalira asked the gathered Baganda to remain firm, saying no amount of harassment and intimidation would snuff out the spirit of the ancient kingdom whose tense relationship with the central government has recently dipped to its lowest point ever.
“No one can suppress Buganda Kingdom. God is always awake when it comes to Buganda and he will always protect it,” Bp. Luwalira said.
He would be joined by the Supreme Mufti Hajj Zubair Kayongo who reminded the crowd that Buganda’s spirit lies in the people’s minds. “You see with armed forces, one can fight anything but not people’s love because it lies in our hearts. The attack on our tombs has instead given us more determination,” Hajj Kayongo said.
The Kabaka, with his wife at his side, nodded as the religious men repeated their belief in Buganda’s greatness.
He then waved to the masses for some minutes. He left the grounds at noon without addressing the crowd, with some subjects running after his convoy for some considerable distance. Culturally, the Kabaka does not speak at mourning ceremonies, the reason he did not address the masses.
DP president Norbert Mao, and UPC’s Olara Otunnu also paid their respects.
The majority of mourners steered clear of the acrimonious politics that has persisted since the fire and the subsequent confrontation between the army and some Baganda subjects in which three civilians were shot dead at Kasubi.
The events had threatened to deepen tensions between the NRM government and Mengo, the seat of Buganda Kingdom, already strained since the September riots last year after authorities blocked the Kabaka from visiting Kayunga District, which is part of his kingdom.