This article is written by N. KHOKHLOV, Izvestia Special Correspondent and transcribed by Thomas Schmidt.
The whole of mankind now sees the Belgian colonialists as vicious plunderers. The myth that the former Belgian Congo was a model colony has collapsed. In the African continent Brussels had seized a whole country, pillaging it for nearly 80 years. During this long period Belgian writers produced a huge number of books on this vast tropical colony. Fat tomes and slim brochures importunately preached the single idea that the modern Congo had been created by the monarchs in Brussels. Like the Lord in Heaven who is supposed to have created everything terrestrial, the Belgian kings “created” an entire country. “Without kings, without Belgium there would have been no Congo!” the imperialist pen-pushers cried from the roof-tops. That, in essence, was how the Congolese nation was robbed spiritually. That was the substance of colonial propaganda. What official Brussels called its “civilising mission” was nothing but brigandage and the forbidding reality of the capitalist world.
The Congo is one of the oldest countries in Africa. Its name is derived from the Congo, which is one of the greatest rivers of the world. The country has a territory of 905 square miles, which is 77 times bigger than the territory of Belgium. It turns out that a small European colonial vulture conquered and exploited a territory that is almost 80 times the size of the kingdom of Belgium.
A census has never been taken of the population of the Congo. The colonialists estimated the number of inhabitants “by eye”. It is believed that in the Congo today there are at least 14 million inhabitants. Historians assert that the population of the Congo decreased by half in the past century, i.e., during the period of Belgian domination. In the recent past the Congo was one of the main sources of slaves for the West. Historical researches point to the astounding fact that European traders in “live merchandise” shipped over 13 million slaves from the Congo. More than five million unfortunate inhabitants of Equatorial Africa perished in the voyages across the Atlantic.
In the African languages the Congo means “Great Water”. The earliest mention of this far-away and fabulously rich country is to be found in the notes of the Carthaginian Hanno and the Arab navigator Pateneit. The numerous peoples of the Congo had their own highly developed culture, which was almost completely effaced by the strangers from Europe, who took from the Congo everything they could: people, rare species of trees, gold and pearls, ivory and the skins of rare animals. Henry Morton Stanley, who is also referred to as one of the “creators” of the Congo, wrote:
“Every tusk, piece and scrap in the possession of an Arab trader has been steeped and dyed in blood. Every pound weight has cost the life of a man, woman or child, for every five pounds a hut has been burnt, for every two tusks a whole village has been destroyed, every twenty tusks have been obtained at the price of a district with all its people, villages and plantations.”
In the period between 1857 and 1876 alone, nearly 800 Tons of ivory was shipped out of Africa annually. In other words, the colonialist barbarians destroyed not less than 51,000 elephants a year.
No one can say how much precious metal was taken out of the Congo or give the quantity of diamonds that was wrung out of the diamond-fields scattered along the Kasai and Lulua rivers. It would be an impossible task to state the number of ships that sailed away loaded with ebony and jacaranda, with baobab and sequoia, with bamboo, or with crocodile skins. The Baluba people have no other name for a Belgian than pene toto, which means “money-grabbing”. For a piece of copper wire or for a handful of glass beads that were used as ornaments by tribal chiefs, the Belgian colonialist received in exchange bags of gold dust and bottles filled with diamonds. He killed hippopotamuses and crocodiles, giraffes and deer, leopards and the rare okapis. For a song he acquired the priceless masks of the Bashi, Lulua and Baluba tribes and bought up the works by artists of the poto-poto school, which is famous throughout Africa. The Brussels merchants began to bring from the Congo even giant canoes hollowed out of the ancient trees growing on the banks of the great African river. Jungles were cut down and the dense, luxuriant forests were laid waste. The once flourishing flora and fauna began to grow sickly. The Congo became a “dying land”.
The bronze statues of Belgian kings, sticking into the air in Leopoldville, Luluabourg, Bukavu, Stanleyville, Elisabethville, Matadi, Boma and many other Congolese towns are unique landmarks of pillage and colonial piracy. Leopold II issued an edict decreeing the chopping-off of the hands of Congolese who did not bring the fixed amount of rubber, coffee or ivory. To this day one can meet in the Congo old men with amputated left hands as sinister reminders of the Belgian monarch. Who was left-handed lost his right hand.
Since those days Belgian “civilisation” has changed to some extent, taking on a more “modern” appearance. The Congolese no longer had their hands mutilated: they were savagely flogged instead. There were purely mercantile considerations behind this fiendish “humanity”: it was unprofitable to chop off a man’s hands as that deprived him of his capacity for work. The colonialists turned to the whip and lash.
The Congo is a grim reproach to and a stern accusation of the colonial system of oppression. Occupying a twelfth part of the territory of Africa, the Congo lived in darkness and her people were doomed to extinction. A handful of Belgian magnates wallowed in wealth while the population of the tropics knew nothing but hardship and privation. The Belgian Union Minière controls billions of francs, but the Congolese does not have two francs with which to buy a box of matches. After a few years in the Congo, the Belgian official builds luxurious villas, buys the latest American cars and can command a comfortable life for the rest of his days. A Congolese has to work for a year to earn the price of an aircraft ticket from Leopoldville to Elisabethville. An American car costs from 220,000 to 250,000 francs, a sum that a Congolese can never earn even in 50 or 60 years.
Many of the Belgians in the Congo have private helicopters, sea-going vessels and launches, to say nothing of cars. The Congolese has what his grandfather and great-grandfather had before him: a wretched hut made of bamboo and palm leaves, a ragged singlet and a loin-cloth. The Belgian imports wild goat meat into the Congo from the Portuguese colony of Angola, drinks the choicest of French wines and treats himself to oysters brought in refrigerators from Antwerp. The food the Congolese eats consists of manioc, which, ground into flour, was eaten by the local inhabitants a hundred, two hundred and a thousand years ago.
The colonialists enmeshed the glorious Congolese people in chains of spiritual slavery. When I went to the Congo I wanted to meet Congolese writers, scientists, doctors and teachers. But there were none to meet. This former Belgian colony with its population of 14 million people does not have a single doctor, scientist or teacher of its own. What an unspeakable disgrace this is to civilised and cultured Belgium! In the Congo not a single newspaper is published in the local language: all publications belong to the Belgian Catholics. The French language has trampled and supplanted the Lingala, Ki-Kongo, Chikoba and Kiswahili languages that are spoken by millions of people. Brussels eradicated the whole of Congolese culture, flinging a many-million-strong people into the abyss of medieval darkness. This was the modern barbarism that Patrice Lumumba, ardent patriot and great son of his people, struggled against. The nation spoke through his lips, declaring relentless war on colonialism. Lumumba sacrificed his life for a united, sovereign Congo. His ideals live in the hearts of Congolese patriots, who are determined to consummate these bright ideals in the name of which a hero of our day has died.
The horrible news that Patrice Emery Lumumba was murdered in cold blood in the Katanga lair was for all of us like a blow by a home-made Congolese battle-axe. The destiny of this heroic man, a devoted patriot and an ardent fighter against the accursed colonial regime, is inseparable from the destiny of his homeland. Patrice, as he is lovingly and simply called by the Congolese people, was always in the front ranks of the patriots who courageously and proudly bid defiance to the imperialist vultures. The tragedy of Lumumba as a politician, man and fighter reflects the bottomless grief of the 14-million-strong Congolese people. The Congo and Lumumba, Lumumba and the Congo are interlaced and each of them stirs us and evokes vehement hatred for the organizers of this orgy of blood.
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Who was Patrice Lumumba? What were the ideals to which he was dedicated heart and soul?
Lumumba was born on July 2, 1925, in Sankuru Region, Kasai Province. He belonged to the Mutetela ethnical group. After finishing secondary school he went to work, finding employment in various colonial firms and offices. He was a post-office employee and worked in a factory run by a Belgian. At the same time he plunged into literary and journalistic activity, writing poems and publishing articles about the terrible plight of the Congolese. In Stanleyville he founded the newspaper Uhuru (Freedom), which today is one of the most popular in the Congo Republic. Lumumba was the director of the weekly Indepéndance. In October 1959, he published a declaration on the establishment of the Congo National Movement Party. This was the organizational culmination of the extensive work that was done by Lumumba and his associates to mobilise and unite into a single party all the progressive forces standing shoulder to shoulder in the liberation movement. The Party advanced the slogan of “Independence Now!”
The Belgian colonialists flung Lumumba into jail twice. But long before independence was proclaimed Lumumba’s popularity and influence among his people was such that it could not be ignored by the official Brussels. The Belgian King had a long conversation with Lumumba during one of his visits to the Congo. Lumumba was promised a high position and an untroubled life in a new pro-Belgian and, essentially, colonial government of the Congo. Lumumba remained true to his political convictions and with unflagging energy went on defending the rights of the enslaved Congolese people.
It is characteristic that in the elections in Orientale Province Lumumba’s Party received 90 per cent of the votes. This took place at a time when the leader of the Party was in jail.
The so-called round-table conference, held in the Belgian capita) early in 1960, was planned by official Brussels as a rehearsal to determine the role Congolese leaders would play in the future “independent” government at Leopoldville. The colonial officials had already selected “suitable” candidates: Jean Bolikango, for example, could be president, and Joseph Kasavubu prime minister.
The conference organisers endeavoured to avoid even the mention of Lumumba’s name. But the plan hatched in Brussels was upset as soon as the conference began. Lumumba’s supporters demanded that the head of the Congo National Movement Party be admitted to the conference.
“If Lumumba is not invited we shall leave Brussels,” Congolese patriots declared.
Lumumba was in jail at the time. The Belgians had no alternative but to release him immediately and bring him to Brussels by aircraft. It is said that when Lumumba entered the conference room his arms still bore the bloody marks of shackles: they had been taken off only a few hours before.
In Leopoldville I, like all the other Soviet correspondents, saw Lumumba many times, went to his residence and attended his press conferences. I would say that simplicity and fidelity to principles are the qualities that distinguish Patrice Lumumba most of all. He began one of his press conferences with the words:
“I have invited you, gentlemen, to talk with you, to seek your advice and to exchange opinions. I hope that you will be objective in reporting the events in my country and keep world opinion informed of the truth.”
That was Lumumba’s way—warm and stimulating.
There was no correspondent in Leopoldville who did not have the greatest of respect for Lumumba. Everything about this outstanding personality was attractive: his ardent calls against colonialism, his passion as a political leader and his ability to engage an adversary in open and honest battle. Here is what the British Foreign Report wrote about this remarkable leader of the Congo:
“Hard-working, physically courageous and a charmer, his strength is that he is the only genuinely nationalist, anti-tribal and anti-regional Congolese leader…. Mr. Lumumba seems to be the only Congolese politician with the necessary ambition and qualities to hold the Congo together as a unitary state.”
Lumumba showed that he was a convinced and consistent opponent of tribalism, of tribal wars. A native of Kasai, which is inhabited by dozens of ethnical groups, tribes and nationalities, Lumumba knew what the tribal wars cost the Congolese people and time and again urged that an end be put to hostility between tribes once and for all. The membership of Lumumba’s Party is a practical embodiment of his ideas, for it embraces almost all the nationalities of the Congo and there are branches of his Party in every province.
Patrice Lumumba worked in an exceedingly difficult situation. The treasury was empty. There was no national army. The state apparatus was weak. The government had no means of transportation. There had been several cases of Belgian aircraft taking off with Lumumba on board only to return to the airport after circling over it. The colonialists resorted to base means to deprive the Prime Minister of all opportunity of touring the republic and speaking to the people.
“Westerners and U.N. representatives are the only people I meet,” Lumumba said in such cases. “I have to speak French, when all the time I yearn to discuss things in my native Lingala, to meet with the peasants.”
Yes, with his people he spoke in Lingala. Those were stirring scenes! When he arrived in Stanleyville, tens of thousands of townsfolk and villagers came to meet him. The Elaeis palms seemed to shake with the mighty shouts of:
“Congo! Lumumba! Uhuru!“
In Stanleyville I saw that if you wanted to make a Congolese smile and well disposed towards you you had to greet him with just the one word Lumumba.
Lumumba showed a very eager interest in the Soviet Union. He was always glad to meet and talk with Soviet people. While in Stanleyville, he found the time to talk with Vasily Shishkin, head of a team of Soviet doctors who worked in the province. He asked how the Soviet doctors were getting used to the tropical climate, what accommodations they had, how they were supplied with food, and so on.
“You come straight to me if you have difficulties,” he said to Shishkin.
Lumumba was the one who said that the Soviet Union was the only Great Power whose position was in accord with the will and views of the Congolese people. This evaluation of the Soviet Union’s policy of disinterestedly supporting the fighting people of the Congo served as grounds for accusing Lumumba of favouring communism. He was asked about this during receptions in Leopoldville and during his trips abroad. His reply was:
“We are neither Communists, Catholics nor socialists. We are African nationalists. We reserve the right to choose our friends in accordance with the principle of positive neutrality.”
Lumumba had the uncanny gift of instantaneously exposing the plots of the enemies of a united Congo, The local and overseas colonialists alike feared his speeches. Hammarskjöld preferred not to meet him: the U.N. Secretary-General was unable to reply to the direct questions asked by the Congolese Prime Minister. In Leopoldville Hammarskjöld engaged in a “business” correspondence with Lumumba’s Government from a sumptuous hotel.
We are speaking and writing as though Lumumba were alive, just as we had seen him. A tall and well-made man looks openly at you through glasses with slightly short-sighted eyes. He speaks in a soft, pleasant voice. He has the manners of an intellectual and the heart of a fighter. After a session in Parliament, when he had to take the floor three times, he rode home to play with his four children. He is a fond father….
It is hard to believe that what happened to Patrice Lumumba took place in the second half of the twentieth century. Just think of it! The lawfully elected Prime Minister of a young African republic was seized by the bandits of the usurper Mobutu, thrown into a dungeon in Thysville and then transported by special plane to Katanga. Regretfully we do not have all the facts of the brutal slaying of Lumumba and his comrades-in-arms, President of the Congolese Senate Joseph Okito and Minister of Defence Maurice Mpolo. But it is obvious that Lumumba’s “escape” was a fake and that it was made public after the prisoners of the Katanga jail had been put to death. Could it be that what President Modibo Keita of the Mali Republic spoke of a few days before the terrible news crashed down upon the world was actually what happened? Speaking of the physical reprisal that was being prepared against Lumumba, Keita declared:
“Eight hundred thousand Belgian francs are to be collected in Paris and sent to Brazzaville, from where this money will be taken to the Congo. Hired assassins are to be paid from this first instalment. Lumumba’s second escape will be engineered to allow the assassins to commit their crime. It would not be superfluous to recall that during Lumumba’s first escape certain Belgian newspapers reported: ‘It was stupid to arrest him! We could have settled this devilish problem at once!'”
What was “not settled” at once was done later.
Foreign observers saw Patrice Lumumba and his comrades-in-arms for the last time at the Elisabethville aerodrome on January 17, 1961. They were blindfolded and covered with blood.
No one must forget the condemnatory fact that the U.N. Command in the Congo perpetrated a crime when on two occasions it surrendered and betrayed the head of the legal Government of the Congo Republic: the first time into the hands of Mobutu and Kasavubu, and the second time into the hands of the Belgian aggressors and Tshombe.
Patrice Lumumba never camouflaged his political convictions. On behalf of his Party and on behalf of the Congolese people he demanded the full and final abolition of the colonial system. He never sought a compromise with the imperialists and their creatures. That was why he was hated in colonialist circles. That was why plots were organised against him in Leopoldville and in Brazzaville on the far bank of the Congo.
The murder of Patrice Lumumba shocked the whole world.
Lumumba became a legend, a symbol, a banner of struggle. The whole world now realises the full significance of the loss. Lumumba was not released as was undeviatingly demanded by world public opinion. He was tortured to death. The American Washington Post and Times Herald can now stop worrying that “Lumumba’s release will be an obvious risk for the Western Powers”. We know that behind the Katanga hangmen there are definite “white” faces. Sitting in an international organisation they squeezed out of themselves official “condolences” that sounded as though they were glued together with pieces of gutta-percha. They will always be haunted by the ghost of the dead hero and martyr! It is time the whole world forcibly declared that the post of U.N. Secretary-General is incompatible with villainy. May the wrath and grief of millions of Congolese and of hundreds of millions of ordinary folks the world over finally force the overt and covert accomplices of the crime in a nameless Katanga village out of their high posts in the U.N.!
Lumumba is no longer among the living. The Congo lost a great son. He perished in the prime of his anti-colonial, patriotic activity. A prime minister may be unlawfully removed and assassinated, but the idea of the Congo’s unity cannot be put down. Lumumba is no more. But his staunch supporters and his Party remain. Writing about them, the newspaper Uhuru said:
“The Congo National Movement Party is the motor of our entire movement. Its credo and ours is unity.
“Belgium should have realised that the views expressed by Lumumba were the views of the majority of the Congolese people. Lumumba always forestalled the designs of those who shape Belgium’s foreign policy. We call upon the entire people to participate in political activity and support the national movement that was created and organised by Lumumba’s Party. For those who are fighting for the future of our country we bring to mind a piece of ancient wisdom, which says that the substance of life is not that man should fall, but, on the contrary, that he should continually rise. At this culminating period we call upon you to support unity. History and the people will appraise the efforts we are making today. Long live a united and indivisible Congo! Long live Lumumba and freedom!”
“Lumumba and freedom!”, “Lumumba and independent Congo!” are the slogans with which thousands upon thousands of Congolese are rising to the struggle against the Belgian aggressors and their satellites. Lumumba’s bright life inspires people to the performance of great deeds. The savage murders are evidence of the agony of the outworn system of slavery. Lumumba’s very death is mobilising the Congolese to the struggle for freedom and independence, for the sake of which Africa’s national hero Patrice Lumumba lived, worked and suffered with such supreme courage to the last drop of his blood.