Source: Patrice Lumumba: Fighter for Africa’s Freedom, Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1961, pp 104-110.
Written: by Lev VOLODIN, Soviet journalist;
Transcribed: by Thomas Schmidt.
The rain poured all that evening, and from our verandah we gazed at the turbid curtain of water that hid the silent city from view. Our host was 25-year-old Jacques N. With the quick gestures of a youth and the firm gaze of a man who had seen much in his life, he spoke in an emotion-filled voice of the days when Patrice Lumumba struggled against the men who accomplished the September coup d'etat. Jacques had been one of Lumumba's associates and had worked with him.
He told me how Lumumba's departure from his closely guarded residence was planned and carried out in November 1960. Jacques had helped in that daring escape and remembered everything down to the last detail. All I had to do was to write down what he said, to keep pace with his rapid flow of words. Here is his story:
It was a rainy evening. We were in Leopoldville, where we were surrounded by enemies. Lumumba had spent two months behind a double ring of troops. It was impossible to see him, but we spoke to him from time to time, using the telephone in a U.N. guardhouse.
On the first day of his imprisonment Lumumba ordered us to be prepared to leave Leopoldville so as to continue an open fight against the rebels from some other place. Many political leaders, Ministers and M.P.s prepared to leave the city. According to Lumumba's plan the whole operation was to take one or two days and we were to go at different times and use different routes.
November 27, 1960, was the day set for our departure. All that day we waited for a telephone call from Lumumba. The telephone rang at six in the evening when an autumn tropical shower was pouring down from the sky.
"I am ready," Lumumba said. "Drive to the house and wait there."
Victor B. and I put two old rifles in our car and sped to Lumumba's house in the driving rain. Troops were patrolling the entrance. Most of them were hiding from the rain under a tree. We took in the entire scene at a glance. Our plan was simple: if the troops noticed Lumumba in the car we would fire at them to cover his escape.
The gates swung open and a big black Chevrolet appeared. The driver, Maurice, stopped the car and, replying to a query from the soldiers, said:
"I'm taking the servants home. It will soon be night."
In the rain and darkness the sergeant could not see who was in the car.
"Open the door, we'll check," he ordered the driver.
We released the safety catches on our rifles. The guards had only one rifle. The others were stacked beneath an awning. But at that moment we heard Lumumba cry:
"Maurice, step on the gas!"
The powerful car sprang forward, the soldiers shouted and ran for their rifles. But it was too late. The car took several turnings at full speed and Lumumba was soon on the highway.
Another car was waiting for us at the aerodrome. From there we began our journey to Stanleyville.
That evening we drove for more than two hundred kilometres along a muddy and bumpy road. We were stopped by the Kwilu River, where we had a small incident. The ferrymen flatly refused to take us across. We were surprised and asked them for the reason.
"It's the rule. We are not allowed to ferry Congolese after 10 p.m." Lumumba went to the ferrymen.
"Don't you know that there are new orders now, that the power in the land belongs to us? The Belgians no longer rule the Congo."
"That's true. But we've had no new instructions. That is why we are keeping the old rules."
One of the ferrymen raised his lantern and suddenly shouted in wild excitement: "It's Lumumba!"
There and then, on a piece of paper, Lumumba wrote instructions allowing Congolese to be ferried across the river' at any time. When we were on the far bank, he said sadly: "What a terrible heritage! They don't even realise that they can decide something themselves, that they are free. It will be difficult to work, but we will surmount everything and give the people knowledge. That is the main thing. It will be easier after that."
We drove all night and then, without resting, all day. Our plan to travel in secrecy failed. The people recognised Lumumba and warmly greeted him wherever our cars appeared. The news, relayed by "bamboo telegraph", that the Prime Minister was coming in person travelled from village to village faster than our cars. At Masi-Manimba, an administrative centre, the population showered Lumumba's car with flowers. Crowds of people barred our way. They brought us chicken, eggs and bananas to show that they were kindly disposed towards us. In many villages the people came out with weapons, thinking that Lumumba was mustering volunteers against the rebels. In Mangaya, at a rally that was held spontaneously, Lumumba said:
"Brothers, put away your weapons. But look after them, for you will need them. We shall have to fight for freedom. The colonialists don't want to give it to us peacefully, so we'll win it fighting them."
During a short halt, after we had crossed the Brabanta River, Lumumba talked to us round a fire. He spoke of the future unification of our forces, of a new army, of the need to rely on the people.
"You see, the people support the Government because our programme is clear: complete independence, the Congo for the Congolese. Fourteen million Congolese want work, a better future for their children. They want to be citizens with full political rights, they want a new life. The rebels are thinking of something totally different. At this moment they are calculating how much they'll get for their treachery. But the struggle hasn't ended. We shall gather new forces. I believe in my people."
I vividly remember this talk round the campfire. Lumumba's lucid thoughts cut deep into my memory. He said to me:
"You, Jacques, have contact with young people. That's from whom we get most of our support. Young people are eager for a new life and this is a turning point for them. Either they'll get everything they want or they'll have to return to their back-breaking work in foreign-owned plantations, factories and mines. We must make them the masters of the country. Extensive organisational work is required. The young people have to be freed from tribal survivals and united round the idea of national unity, the rejuvenation of their country."
For me these words were the behest of a teacher. We never had another opportunity for a serious talk. We drove on and on, trying to get to Orientale Province as quickly as we could. There the people were waiting for Lumumba and he would be out of his pursuers' reach. At the Brabanta River we were joined by a group of Ministers and M.P.s. Now we were a big party and secrecy was out of the question. We knew that our pursuers were somewhere near.
At daybreak on November 30 we reached Port Francqui, where the administrator gave a luncheon in honour of the Prime Minister. People milled around the house, showing their friendliness. Suddenly a lorry full of troops drove up at full speed. They were rebels.
Although they were inclined to be bellicose, the presence of a large crowd made them hesitate to do anything. The sergeant in charge of the troops had a talk with Lumumba and demanded that he follow them. I do not know what was said because at the time I ran to a nearby U.N. post. The officer, an Englishman, listened to me coldly.
"We do not interfere in Congolese affairs," was his reply.
But the troops under him, all of whom were Africans, acted differently. Paying no attention to their officer, they quickly got their guns and ran to the administrator's house. That decided the issue. The rebels departed. The U.N. troops, riding in a lorry, accompanied us for about fifty kilometres and then waved us on.
We drove to the small town of Mweka. The commissioner met us on the road. Preparations for a rally were under way in the town. The people wanted to hear the Prime Minister. Lumumba hesitated. The danger had not passed, and the pursuit could be renewed. The Ministers insisted that he drive on. Out of the window of the car he looked thoughtfully at the square where several thousand people had already assembled.
"But what about them?" he said to us. "They're waiting to see me. I must say at least a few words to them."
The rally was held, and when it was ending we again saw our pursuers. This time the troops were driving in cars which the Belgians in Port Francqui had given them. We took a lightning decision. I jumped into Lumumba'sblack Chevrolet and sped along the highway to draw the attention of the troops. They gave chase, and in the meantime Lumumba and his companions went in a different direction, taking a roundabout route to the Sankuru River.
The Chevrolet was too fast for the troops. They halted somewhere along the highway, evidently giving up the chase, and turned back. At the entrance to Mweka they were awaited by a Belgian railway employee. He showed them where Lumumba went.
Lumumba and his companions were already far away. Towards seven in the evening they got to the tiny village of Lodi, where there was a ferry across the Sankuru. But the ferry boat was nowhere to be found. Lumumba decided to abandon the cars and cross the river in a canoe.
"We'll find other cars there, and if the worst comes to the worst we'll walk," he said to his companions.
There was only one canoe, and Lumumba and three companions crossed to the far bank first. Lumumba's wife and the rest of his party waited for the ferry boat. When the Prime Minister was already on the opposite bank, the pursuers suddenly appeared. The troops seized the entire party and shouted to Lumumba to return.
Without suspecting anything Lumumba got the ferrymen to cross the river and collect the people there. When the boat emerged from the darkness it was seized by troops, who crossed the river and surrounded Lumumba.
"Chief," the man in charge said, "we didn't want to cause you any harm. But they'll kill us if we return without you. You must understand it."
With a sad look at the soldiers Lumumba said:
"There's nothing to say. I know that to save yourselves you would murder Pauline and Roland. You can kill me. But remember—you'll never be forgiven. And you'll be sorry for the deed you're doing today."
Lumumba was sent to Mweka. I was there and saw a lorry with thoops stop at the U.N. post on the town's outskirts at six in the morning. Lumumba, his hands tied behind his back, was standing in the lorry, and beside him were his wife, son, a Minister and several M.P.s. I ran to the British lieutenant.
"It's Lumumba, save him."
Lumumba himself said loudly and clearly from the lorry:
"Lieutenant, I am the Prime Minister. I request United Nations protection."
The lieutenant looked indifferently at him, crushed his cigarette and went into the house without replying. The rebel soldiers, who had watchfully waited for the results of Lumumba's appeal, seized Lumumba, dragged him out of the lorry and pushed him into a small red Opel that had come from Port Francqui.
I ran to the U.N. African troops. They raised the alarm and gave chase, but the red Opel was evidently too far away....
Whenever people now say that the U.N. could do nothing to prevent Lumumba's arrest, that its representatives did their utmost to stop his illegal detention, I remember that U.N. lieutenant, his haughty, indifferent face and the boot slowly crushing a smoking cigarette....