MAPUTO, Mozambique — Mozambicans are planning marches across the country to honor Azagaia, a popular protest rapper and fierce government critic, who died last week.
Memorial marches are planned in every major city on Saturday for the musician who died after an epileptic seizure at the age of 38.
The nationwide demonstrations follow Azagaia’s funeral procession on Wednesday, in which thousands marched through the streets of Maputo, the capital, chanting protest slogans such as “resistance” and “power to the people.”
Riot police used tear gas to disperse the crowd as it tried to carry Azagaia’s coffin past Ponta Vermelha, the official residence of the president.
Such mass demonstrations critical of President Filipe Nyusi's government are rare in Mozambique.
“Azagaia was a hero of the people. More of a hero than the president, that is why we are taking him to the president’s house,” said Walter, a demonstrator who refused to give his last name for his safety. Speaking before the procession was dispersed, he said: “Nothing like this (march) has ever happened before.”
Azagaia, whose real name was Edson da Luz, was known for openly condemning government corruption in his music and garnered a large following, particularly among young people.
Commemorative marches are planned on Saturday in all of Mozambique’s 11 provinces, with tens of thousands expected to attend. However, police have refused to authorize a demonstration in the northern province of Cabo Delgado where the government has been fighting an Islamic extremist insurgency since 2017.
Authorities have told organizers in Cabo Delgado's cities of Montepuez and Pemba that marches may be allowed on another day when public emotions have calmed down.
Mozambique has sometimes seen protests over the prices of fuel and bread but such mass demonstrations celebrating opposition activists are unusual.
The day after Azagaia died, a vigil was held in Maputo where hundreds came to hear tributes, many of which explicitly criticised the ruling party Frelimo.
”(Azagaia) never sided with any political party because he was the voice of the people,” Tirso Sitoe, an organiser of the vigil, told The Associated Press. “He showed us that things have not changed since independence (in 1975). The only thing that has changed is the colour of (the rulers’) skin.”
Azagaia achieved a passionate following, and notoriety, with songs such as “Povo no Poder” ("Power to the People") which was released in 2008 during protests over rising fuel prices. The rapper accused politicians of stealing from ordinary people to fund their lives of luxury. It has since become an anthem of opposition to the government. Other songs commented on issues such as police brutality and drug trafficking.
In recognition of his popularity, Mozambican officials paid tribute to Azagaia.
“Mozambican music and culture are in mourning,” Mozambique’s minister of culture, Eldevina Materula, said.
Nonetheless, while he was alive Azagaia was often treated with hostility by the government. His songs were generally censored on state media and the Attorney General’s Office accused him of inciting violence following the release of “Povo no Poder.”