Source: Patrice Lumumba: Fighter for Africa’s Freedom, Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1961, pp 80-90.
Written: by Jean BULABEMBA, Congolese journalist;
Transcribed: by Thomas Schmidt.
"There is no compromise between freedom and slavery," said Patrice Emery Lumumba, who sacrificed his life to bring real freedom to his people. Those who consider freedom as their exclusive prerogative murdered him in an effort to strangle Congolese nationalism.
"Africa will write her own history, and in both north and south it will be a history of glory and dignity," Lumumba wrote a few days before his death. The Congo already has its own history, but so far it is only a history of struggle, a history of a transitional period. The history of glory and dignity Lumumba spoke about will come.
Lumumba personifies the Congolese people. He chose the road of suffering, torture and, lastly, death rather than become a slave of the imperialists. He was firmly and deeply convinced that sooner or later his country would be completely independent. Like their leader, the Congolese people prefer to bear every form of suffering rather than see their freedom mutilated and trampled upon by those who for more than 80 years of colonial rule kept them in such poverty and bondage that they are themselves ashamed of it.
The Congolese people are carrying on their struggle for true independence.
The movement for the Congo's liberation had its own features. At first, when real nationalists led by Lumumba demanded complete independence, some political leaders in connivance with colonialist circles called for the creation of a commonwealth with Belgium. Shorn of its trimmings, it meant the retention of colonial rule in the Congo pure and simple. One man realised earlier and better than any other political leader what had to be done to carry the national-liberation movement to victory. His name was Patrice Emery Lumumba and his prime concern was to make his people conscious of themselves as a nation.
He was the first Congolese leader to come into contact with the people, to discuss their country's problems with them and to take their will into consideration. In 1958, when he returned from Accra, he organised a rally in Leopoldville's Victory Square. More than 15,000 men, women, young people and old folk flocked to the square to listen to him. It was the first time in the Congo's history that the people responded to a call from a compatriot. Until then they had been taught to obey only the instructions of the white man.
The rally's success surpassed all expectations. I was there. With other Congolese political leaders standing beside him, Lumumba spoke of the Conference in Accra in a clear and simple manner. The people listened to him quietly and attentively.
Confident in himself and speaking off the cuff, he told the people of the difficulties lying on the road to independence. He repeatedly stressed the need for unity and national consciousness. "We are not unlike any other inhabitants of the world. The Congo is our country. We must be the masters in our homes. So let us this day begin the struggle for our rights. Let us unite and go forward to independence," he said.
The word "independence" struck a responsive chord in people's hearts. At that moment Lumumba established direct contact with his hearers. He had touched on their most cherished hopes. The people saw that he was the man to lead them to freedom. For his part Lumumba felt the response of his listeners.
He continued: "The colonialists seek to divide us in order to go on ruling us. Let us prove our maturity. Let us live like brothers. Independence is our birthright. We don't need anyone to present it to us because this country belongs to us. If the colonialists choose to ignore our lawful demands, we shall do everything to wrest our independence from them." The crowd responded with shouts of "Independence! Long live Lumumba! Independence!"
While the people voiced their heartfelt approval of Lumumba's statements, the few Belgians present in the square virtually writhed in fury. A Belgian official standing beside me turned purple with rage. In the meantime Lumumba went on speaking on the subject of national independence and the struggle to achieve it. Following Congolese custom, the speaker and his listeners began a dialogue. "Do you want to be the masters of your country?" Lumumba asked. "Yes," the people thundered in reply. "What is needed for that?" Lumumba continued. "Independence!" the people replied. This meeting, called for Congolese by Congolese, ended on a note of jubilation. Lumumba was the first man to awaken the people's national consciousness, which was to change the future of this old Belgian colony.
Naturally, the success of this Lumumba-organised rally required the continuation of political work among the people. Lumumba had no intention of tackling this task single-handed. He appealed to Congolese political leaders to unite in a single political bloc with independence as their common objective. He gave his political organisation the meaningful name of Congo National Movement (CNM), thereby underlining the aspiration for unity. Most of the political leaders responded favourably to Lumumba's appeal.
The colonialists attentively followed developments. Feeling the threat to their policy they immediately resorted to bribery. Huge sums of money passed into the hands of some political leaders on the understanding that they would break with Lumumba and oppose his efforts.
Drawing upon his own meagre resources, Lumumba toured the country and set up branches of the Congo National Movement which was gaining in popularity. The CNM's growing influence, due in large measure to Lumumba's efforts, furthered the development of the national-liberation movement in the Congo.
In Orientale Province support for the CNM was so overwhelming that branches were set up even in villages inhabited only by 20 persons or so. Lumumba personally toured the villages, speaking to the people. He knew several Congolese dialects and had no difficulty communicating with the people. He became the most popular figure in the country.
In the young states of Africa political activity requires exceptional endowments, particularly high spiritual qualities. The people loved Lumumba because they knew he shared their aspirations. Lumumba appreciated that political activity meant work with and among the people. He gave up a well-paid job and devoted himself entirely to politics. His travels about the country took him to the farthest corners. He appealed to the people and they responded to his appeals. He shared the unhappy lot of the Congolese nation and understood its sufferings, and the support he got from the people encouraged him to press for radical changes.
Throughout his career as a political leader Lumumba preached fraternal love between all Congolese. And he practised what he preached. When Kasavubu was arrested following the events of January 4, 1959, in Leopoldville, Lumumba took steps to obtain his release.
He looked for ways of forming an alliance with all Congolese leaders in order to begin a general offensive against the colonialists. In spite of the difficulties, he went to the people and said to them: "Let us continue the struggle. Let us be solidly behind our brothers who have been arrested by the colonialists in an effort to divide us."
The political situation in the country grew tense after the arrests that followed the demonstration in Leopoldville on January 4, 1959. Developments in the Congo forced the Belgian Government to carry out a political and administrative reform.
This reform was announced in a declaration by the King and Government of Belgium on January 13, 1959. It mentioned independence.
The publication of this declaration sparked off a fresh upsurge of the struggle for national independence. The development of the national-liberation struggle depended on the positions adopted by the Congolese leaders. In this situation, the stand taken by Lumumba attracted nationwide attention and, in particular, the attention of Belgian political leaders.
Lumumba suggested convening a round-table conference of Belgian and Congolese leaders to work out the ways that would lead the Congo to immediate independence. The colonialists rejected his plan, refusing to talk with Congolese leaders whom they regarded as "unrepresentative".
The demand for a round-table conference received widespread support in Leopoldville and other major towns in the Congo. Lumumba's proposals were approved by all the nationalist leaders. At this decisive moment of the struggle for national independence Lumumba did his utmost to unite the efforts of all the political leaders. On his initiative, representatives of Congolese political parties gathered together several times to work out a common policy. Lumumba, of course, played an important role in these quests for a joint line and greatly influenced the decisions that were taken.
When the Belgian authorities flatly refused to meet the Congolese leaders, whom they continued to regard as "unrepresentative", Lumumba appealed to the people to go out into the streets and peaceably demonstrate their aspiration for freedom.
In 1959 he organised two congresses. CNM leaders gathered at the first congress, and at the second all the nationalist parties reached agreement on a joint plan of action.
The CNM congress was held at a time when it was obvious that the colonialists would try to start disorders. While the congress was in session in the large hall of the Mangobo Commune in Stanleyville, Belgian-officered soldiers and gendarmes patrolled the street outside. The presence of the soldiers in no way cooled passions, but Lumumba succeeded in avoiding any worsening of the situation. He constantly called upon the population to remain calm and warned them against provocateurs. The congress adopted resolutions demanding independence without delay, the Africanisation of personnel and an immediate meeting between Congolese and Belgian leaders.
Lumumba hardly slept at all during the days the congress was in session. After the sittings he could be seen in the secretariat offices, typing and helping out in other ways. He received delegations, discussed various problems with congress delegates and other visitors, wrote statements for the press and held press conferences.
At this time there was tension between the civilian population and troops commanded by Belgian officers. This tension reached white heat when the congress of the nationalist parties opened. Lumumba went to Leroy, the governor of Orientale Province, and warned him that the behaviour of the army, which was in a mood to fire upon the crowds, was fraught with dangerous consequences.
On Lumumba's suggestion the congress sent a telegram to the Belgian Government demanding that the colonial authorities arrange a meeting between Congolese and Belgian leaders without delay. The Belgian Government replied that it had no intention whatever of discussing the Congo's future with Congolese leaders. The reply came in the evening. The congress had hoped it would be more or less favourable. After reading the telegram, Lumumba said: "I propose we break with Belgium," and the delegates unanimously shouted their approval.
The Belgian officers observing the congress through the windows broke into the premises and threw tear-gas bombs. Lumumba courageously went to the Belgians and told them to leave the hall. It was the first time in the history of the Belgian colony that white officers were compelled to obey an African.
Lumumba's courageous behaviour won the warm approval of the crowds outside. More and more people filled the street. In the face of the provocative actions of the troops, the people of Stanleyville armed themselves with spears, bows and arrows, knives and other weapons. The situation was becoming tense. The Belgian officers completely lost control over themselves and began to fire at the crowd after the Congolese soldiers refused to fire at their brothers. When the first Congolese was struck down by the officers' bullets, Lumumba went to the dead man, lifted him in his arms and wept. The sight of Lumumba weeping with bullets whistling in the air round him made the people reply to the fire of the Belgian officers. Some of the officers fell to the ground, their hearts pierced by arrows. Lumumba wished to stop further bloodshed, and in this confusion he called upon the people to remain calm. They obeyed him and dispersed, leaving the street to the troops.
Disturbances broke out again that night. Lumumba was somewhere at the other end of the city, and when he arrived at the trouble spot it was already too late. Dead troops and civilians, black and white, lay on the road. The authorities ordered ruthless repressions. A warrant for Lumumba's arrest was issued on the next day.
The news of Lumumba's arrest spread like wildfire in Leopoldville, capital of the Congo. The colonialists desperately looked for support among the Congolese leaders, but they could find very little of it. The rallies organised by the CNM drew huge crowds. Resolutions supporting Lumumba were sent to Brussels. Delegations of the different strata of the population went to the Belgian authorities in the Congo and demanded Lumumba's immediate release.
Daily the political situation worsened. The elections to local organs of power, set for the end of 1959, drew near. The nationalist parties decided to boycott these elections. Though in prison, Lumumba continued to direct the activities of his supporters, and his letters reached their destinations despite the close surveillance. Naturally, he was assisted by Congolese troops. It is interesting to note that in spite of the strict measures that were taken by the colonial authorities, almost all of these troops were members of the CNM and had party membership cards.
In January 1960, the Belgian Government convened a round-table conference in Brussels. It was attended by Congolese leaders and Belgian representatives. At the time the conference opened Lumumba was transferred from Stanleyville to a prison in Jadotville that was notorious as a torture chamber. He was barefoot, handcuffed and bore the marks of beatings. He had been manhandled on the way.
The Brussels conference opened without Lumumba, but his representatives were there. The proceedings dragged on for several days without any agreement being reached. The Congolese leaders made it plain to the Belgian authorities that the conference would break down unless the repressions against Congolese were stopped and Lumumba was permitted to attend the conference. This condition was complied with.
In Brussels Lumumba was met by the majority of the Congolese leaders and journalists. He showed them his wounds. In a statement to the press he appealed to the Belgians and Congolese to reach agreement on the early achievement of independence by the Congo.
His presence at the round-table conference cleared the atmosphere. He played a particularly noteworthy role in naming the day for the proclamation of independence. At the conference he publicly exposed the manoeuvres of some Belgian financial groups, who were seeking to split the Congolese and thereby divide the Congo. He even walked out of the conference, and only returned when Tshombe's lawyer, a Belgian named Humblet, was excluded from its sittings. He realised that the objective was to legalise Katanga's secession and called attention to the danger. The other Congolese leaders supported him and condemned the activities of Tshombe, who in view of the general discontent was compelled to give assurances that he had never advocated Katanga's secession. But subsequent events showed that this was a lie.
An Executive Council, which included Congolese members, was set up during the round-table conference on Lumumba's suggestion. This Council was attached to the Governor-General of the Congo and, in principle, its job was to help prepare the proclamation of independence and the parliamentary elections.
Upon their return to the Congo the national leaders were given a jubilant reception by the people. The Congolese were proud that their leaders had been successful. An election campaign began. Lumumba won the election in April 1960. This was frowned upon by the colonialists, who did their utmost to keep Lumumba away from power. But they came up against the people's determination, against Congolese reality. In spite of all their intrigues, Lumumba became the Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo. His deputy was Antoine Gizenga, who later carried on his work.
The colonialists' plots aimed at giving the country only formal independence were exposed by Lumumba long before June 30, 1960, the day the independence of the Republic of the Congo was proclaimed. He went to the people, explaining the political situation to them and uniting them. Rallies were held all over the country. Lumumba secured a basic agreement among the nationalist parties with regard to unity of action. These parties subsequently formed the Lumumba or nationalist bloc.
On June 30, 1960, when the people of the Congo were celebrating their independence, the Belgians were already dreaming of regaining control over the country. But in spite of all their intrigues against Lumumba, he remained in power right up to the grimmest period of his political career.
Six days after independence was proclaimed, the. people of the Congo ran into an emergency precipitated by the colonialists. Everybody knows what that emergency was. In those days and right up to the last minute of his life, Lumumba showed he was a great leader guiding the destinies of his people whom he had always served devotedly.
Lumumba's life was a continuous struggle for the Congo's interests. With the support of the people he became the Head of Government and the leader of the national-liberation movement in the country. Today, when he is dead, his people remember him, his cause and his life.
We are confident that the righteous cause for which many of the Congo's sons have given their lives will ultimately triumph.