Source: Patrice Lumumba, The Truth about a Monstrous Crime of the Colonialists, Moscow, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1961, pp. 89-99.
Written: by Yuri ZHUKOV;
Transcribed: by Thomas Schmidt.
I am writing these lines at night. The teletype is ticking away, hurrying to overtake time. Coils of yellowish tape filled with tiny letters steadily pile up as a violent storm of news rages in the ether: the whole world is turbulently protesting against the murder of Lumumba. And out of this tempest comes a brief cynical dispatch from Elisabethville via New York, stating that Lumumba's body had been burnt. One of Mobutu's airmen, a certain Jack Dixon, who transported the captive Lumumba to Elisabethville, told correspondents: "They tore the hair from his head and tried to force him to eat it...."
They tore the hair from his head and tried to force him to eat it. I do not know who this airman with the Anglo-Saxon name is, but his cold-blooded and inhumanly unemotional description of the tortures to which the man he was taking to the executioner was subjected sounds like something out of S.S. records.
As I gazed at this unevenly torn piece of teletype, somewhere in the distance I saw the proud and energetic face of a great man who remained unconquerable no matter how he was tortured, and who, even after his death, struck such fear in the hearts of his executioners that they hastily burnt his body and scattered the ashes. As I looked back I felt I could not resist the temptation to describe my meetings with this fascinating man during the days when Hammarskjöld's sleek officials were bowing to him with servile smiles, when the misfit reporter Mobutu, who by a turn of destiny became Chief-of-Staff, vowed fidelity, and the Judas Bomboko, who was hatching a conspiracy, was following him like a shadow.
We arrived in Leopoldville in the latter half of August 1960 to discuss cultural relations with the Minister of Education of the Congo: the young republic was asking for doctors, for aid to organise the training of specialists in the Congo herself and abroad, and technical assistance to repair a radio station, whose transmitter had been partially put out of commission by the colonialists when they left Leopoldville.
After a long non-stop flight, our aircraft landed on the splendid concrete-paved runway of a modern aerodrome. There was a deathly stillness when the screaming of the motors died down. It seemed as though we had landed on an uninhabited island. With the exception of several big-bellied U.S. military transport planes used to airlift U.N. troops to the Congo, the aerodrome was deserted. We pushed open the door of our aircraft and found that we had to solve the problem of how to climb down to the ground. While we debated this problem we saw a gangway moving slowly in our direction. It was being pushed by several men, black and white. They made friendly gestures.
Soon we found that they were Pierre Mulele, Minister of Education, a thin young man with a small curly beard, and officials from the Soviet Embassy who had come to meet us. The U.N. officials in charge of the aerodrome had by this time dismissed the entire personnel of the aerodrome and were doing nothing to return things to normal. We were given a very warm welcome and were soon sitting in the Minister's close office and talking of everyday and yet very important matters....
Driving past the Parliament building, we saw the flags of many African countries waving over the entrance. A conference of leading public figures of the Congo, Ghana, Guinea, the Cameroons, Togo, Ethiopia, Liberia, the Sudan, Morocco, the United Arab Republic and Angola had just been opened in the Congolese capital by the Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. On the next day we read his courageous and moving speech in the newspaper Congo, which has the words "The first Congolese daily newspaper owned by Africans" splashed across the top of the front page.
"For my government, for all of us Congolese," he said to the delegates, "your presence here at this moment is living proof of African reality, the reality that our enemies have always disallowed. But you know that this reality is stubborn and that Africa is hale and hearty. It refuses to die.... We all know and the whole world knows that Algeria is not French, that Angola is not Portuguese, that Kenya is not British, that Ruanda-Urundi is not Belgian.... We know what the West is aiming at. Yesterday they split us up on the level of tribes and clans. Today, when Africa is steadfastly liberating itself, they want to divide us on the level of states. In Africa they seek to set up opposing blocs, satellite states and then, on that basis, to start a 'cold war', to widen the split and to perpetuate their trusteeship. But I know that Africa wants to be united and that it will not give way to these machinations...."
In the meantime Leopoldville was taking on the appearance of a besieged city. Military trucks and jeeps filled with helmeted soldiers armed with automatic rifles and submachine-guns sped across the deserted streets of the city. The colour of the helmets showed who these troops were: red-stripped white helmets were worn by the military police, dark-green helmets by the armed forces of the Congolese Republic and blue helmets by the U.N. force. There was unrest at the big Leopold military camp, which for some time now was attracting the special attention of correspondents. There was hardly any discipline in the camp: the men were openly grumbling that they were not getting their pay and that the food was bad. Their wives, who lived with them, complained that they had nothing to feed their children with. Mobutu, the Chief-of-Staff, whose duty it was to restore order and supply the army with all elementary necessaries, was playing a double-game: he vowed loyalty to the government, promising an early offensive against Katanga, where the traitor Tshombe had entrenched himself, and at the same time was doing all in his power to turn the soldiers against the Prime Minister....
In the evening the Prime Minister gave a dinner for the delegates to the All-African Conference. The entire diplomatic corps and foreign visitors to Leopoldville were invited. A military band played in a shady flood-lit garden on the bank of the mighty African river. The envoys of the different African countries, dressed in their colourful costumes, began to arrive. The ambassadors of the Western countries were present, dressed in tuxedoes and frock-coats. Some of them tried to make a show of courtesy but did not always succeed.
The guests were met by the Prime Minister, a lanky man of about thirty-five. His energetic, animated face instantly impresses itself on one's memory—the piercing, glowing brown eyes that reflect profound assurance and spiritual dignity seem to look into your very soul.
This man appeared on the political scene very recently, only three years ago. But these were years of intense activity, years when he and his friends acquired tremendous experience.
Upon being told that we were from Moscow, Lumumba warmly greeted us and invited us to come to see him on the next day. At the reception we met some of Lumumba's friends: Deputy Prime Minister Gizenga, a short, cool and sober-minded man; the young and cheerful Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports Mpolo; and the somberish Minister of Information Anicet Kashamura, who said that the Belgian specialists still working in his Ministry were giving him a pain in the neck.
I sat at the same table with a Guinean delegate in long snow-white robes and a Moslem fez. In front of us sat the ambassador of a Western country with an absent-minded smile on his face and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Bom-boko, dressed in a tuxedo. He was playing the role of a genial host who deeply regretted that due to circumstances beyond his control his guests were not really enjoying themselves.
"Of course," he was saying to his neighbour with much agitation, "as a civilised person I am revolted at the policy of unjustified arrests. But what can I do? You must understand my position…."
"You're right in principle," my neighbour suddenly responded. "But not one of the Western correspondents, who write so much about unjustified arrests, has yet been able to give a single concrete example. Don't you think, Your Excellency, that a few arrests would be justified here in Leopoldville? Our friend Patrice Lumumba is much too generous."
Bomboko frowned and grew silent, concentrating on the food before him. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister rose and took the floor. He spoke with passion, like the born orator he was. He said that the movement for freedom and unity that was now sweeping across Africa was irreversible. An end would be put to the colonial system once and for all. He called upon the representatives of the Western Powers to show a sober understanding of reality and to co-operate with the Republic of the Congo as with an equal partner.
"We stretch out our hand to everybody who desires such co-operation," he said, "to the Americans and to the Russians, to the French and the British, and even to the Belgians, if they are prepared to stop their intervention."
The Western guests smiled courteously, but from the expressions on their faces it was obvious that what the Prime Minister said was not to their liking. My neighbour leaned over to me and whispered in my ear:
"You can't expect anything good from them. Mark my words, Lumumba is standing on ceremony with their agents to no purpose. He shouldn't have forgiven Bomboko and some other people after their conspiracy was exposed."
The band struck up again. Waiters noiselessly served ice-cream on dishes with ice-cubes covered with the blue flames of burning rum. On the surface everything seemed to be quiet and peaceful. Bomboko smiled at the guests, the ambassadors were engaged in polished chatter. The Commander of the Armed Forces Victor Lundula, who fought against the Nazis in the Second World War, alone had no ear for all this conviviality. Dressed in a coarse grey cloth suit, he kept rising from his table and returning, and messengers kept running up to him. As we learnt later, troops were moved to the borders of Katanga Province while the reception was in progress. A military clash was becoming imminent in that province. At the time we knew nothing of this nor of the fact that the Chief-of-Staff Mobutu, that uncomely thin man in large spectacles who was meekly reporting something to Lundula, was preparing the operation in such a way as to send all troops loyal to Lumumba to the south and to leave in Leopoldville only those men, who, led by Belgian officers carrying on underground, would not stop at overthrowing the legal government….
In the morning we went to the Prime Minister's residence, a small house on the bank of the Congo River, in which tiny islands of vegetation were floating by. Gay children's voices could be heard behind the thickly overgrown fence. Curly-headed youngsters were sliding down the banister of the porch. They were the Prime Minister's children; with a curiosity that was mingled with pride they gazed at the helmeted sentries armed with submachine-guns and standing rigidly as though they were statues: the children could not yet get used to seeing their father guarded by such important personages.
The little drawing-room was filled with scores of people seeking an audience with the Prime Minister. You could feel they had been waiting for a long time. In vain did the tired secretary try to persuade them to take their affairs to the pertinent ministries. They insisted on seeing Lumumba: the merchant who wanted a license for his business, the official applying for a transfer to another town and the teacher asking for a rise in his salary. The state apparatus of the young republic had not yet been knit together properly—there was still a lack of experience, and a multitude of cares distracted the Prime Minister from affairs of state.
We were taken to Lumumba through a back entrance, where, incidentally, there was also a crowd of people trying to slip through to the Prime Minister. When we entered his office, Lumumba dismissed the large group of officials crowding round his desk, which was piled high with papers and books, and sat down beside us on an old divan. Our conversation was interrupted time and again by telephone calls. People rang him up on all matters and every minute there was something he had to look into and settle.
While Lumumba spoke over the telephone we looked round his small and simply furnished study. An automatic rifle lay within easy reach on a shelf. There was a portable radio transmitter. After two plots to murder him had been uncovered the Prime Minister has been compelled to take certain precautions.
There was an infinitely weary look on his face, but his eyes continued to burn with indomitable energy. He had not slept at all in the past twenty-four hours and yet he was planning to fly to Stanleyville in the evening to be on hand to meet the Soviet aircraft bringing foodstuffs that the Government of the Soviet Union was sending as a gift to the people of the Congo. Two members of the government, Lumumba told us, were going to the port of Matadi to receive the Soviet lorries that were coming by ship.
"We greatly appreciate this aid," the Prime Minister said with feeling, "as a testimony of the friendship that your people have for us. I would like you to tell Soviet people that what they have done for us during these difficult days will never be forgotten."
Lumumba eagerly questioned us about the results of our talks with the Minister of Education. He wanted the republic to have cultural relations with all countries, the Soviet Union included. He spoke with pain and anger of the backwardness into which the colonialists had forced his people. The colonialists had made fabulous fortunes by shamelessly exploiting the country's colossal deposits of uranium, gold, diamonds, copper and coal. And what had they given in return? During the period of their rule the population had decreased by almost fifty per cent. Starvation and disease were rife. The Congolese people now had to begin building up their country from the beginning and required immense aid. But where was that aid to come from? The government of the republic had expected much from the U.N., when it had open-heartedly asked it to send an international force to drive the colonialists out of the country and help restore order. But it looked as if by inviting this force the Congolese had got themselves out of the frying-pan only to fall into the fire. Hammarskjöld was behaving in much the same way as King Baudouin had....
The Prime Minister smiled bitterly. His long nervous fingers twitched: he was deeply agitated by what was happening. The U.N. force was at one with the colonialists. No sooner would the government uncover one plot than another would be hatched. Out of a feeling of tact Lumumba avoided mentioning the principal plotter, Kasavubu, the President of the Republic. It was no secret that this man, a product of the Belgian Catholic mission schools, was the chief stooge of the colonialists and that instigated by them he was planning the overthrow of the government....
The Prime Minister spoke of the problems that he was now working on to start the country's development: the creation of a network of hospitals, the preparations for the coming school year, the problem of where and how many young people to send to turn them into the highly trained specialists so acutely needed by the country, the problem of strengthening the state apparatus....
He described the cordial reception that the All-African Conference gave to the message sent to it by Soviet Prime Minister Khrushchov.
"That's who is our real and sincere friend," Lumumba said. "I have never met him personally, but I hope we shall meet some day. Please tell Mr. Khrushchov that our people thank him with all their hearts for his concern and support. We are confident that friendly relations based on mutual respect of each other's sovereignty will develop between our countries. The imperialists are doing their utmost to disrupt the Security Council's decision on the withdrawal of Belgian troops from the Congo. We Africans are, perhaps, still naive, but we sincerely believed in the U.N. Charter and hoped that it would be observed by the nations that had signed it. That was why we approached that organisation for help. But look what came of it?"
Again a bitter smile came to his lips and he spread out his arms. An angry spark suddenly lit up his eyes.
"Never mind. Perhaps this will cost us dearly, very dearly, but the lesson will be learned by Africa. The peoples of Africa will realise who are our friends and who our enemies and how to distinguish between them....
"We are not enemies of any country," Lumumba continued, "and we are prepared to co-operate with all countries. I made myself sufficiently clear on this point yesterday. But we are against oppression and exploitation. We did not free ourselves from bondage to the Belgians simply in order to put another yoke round our necks. No matter how events shape out, even if they will be unfavourable for us, it will be useful for Africa, which is now watching us and closely following what is happening here—it will be a university of struggle for it...."
He was about to add something, but the door opened with a bang and a group of military men strode into the room. They spoke excitedly in their own language.
The Prime Minister rose and, turning to me, said quietly in French:
"You must excuse me but something important has just happened. A group of Belgian officers in civilian dress have landed on the aerodrome. The U.N. has taken over control of the aerodrome on the pretext that that is a necessary step to avert civil war. We were told that it was a 'neutralising' operation. Now you see what that word means. We are now going to catch those Belgian scoundrels...."
He repeated his request that we convey his heartfelt greetings and gratitude to the head of the Soviet Government, said good-bye, quickly walked out into the street, sat in a jeep filled with soldiers and drove off to the aerodrome.
I never had another opportunity of speaking to him, but I shall always remember this fearless and strong man, his expressive face with the small jet-black goatee, his big and deeply human sparkling eyes, his quick gestures, his light and fast gait, and his unique manner of speaking with clipped phrases and accentuated intonations that reflected his deep conviction of the righteousness of every word he spoke.
He was a remarkable man in every respect and had his life not been cut short at the very beginning of his political career by those who feared him, he would, undoubtedly, have become one of the most outstanding personalities of our epoch. A man of talent and will, he could find his way out of the most difficult situations. Recall how on three occasions in succession, when his enemies were already preparing to celebrate their victory, he sharply changed the most impossible situations and invariably proved to be the master.
Following up his coup, Mobutu sent his picked cutthroats to arrest Lumumba. The Prime Minister opened their eyes for them and they went away feeling that the man who should have been seized was the one who had signed the warrant for the arrest of the Prime Minister.
Mobutu imprisoned Lumumba at the Leopold military camp. There Lumumba spoke to the soldiers. They cheered him and he left the camp in triumph.
Mobutu again seized him and held him in captivity in another camp, in Thysville. There, too, Lumumba showed his jailers that his was the just cause and they again released him.
Mobutu hurried to turn his indomitable captive over to the hangman Tshombe in Katanga Province, and there he was murdered.
But even in death Lumumba cows his executioners. As I write these lines crowds of angry people are gathering outside Belgian embassies throughout the world and protesting against the crime perpetrated in far-away Katanga. In Cairo infuriated demonstrators broke into the Belgian Embassy, where they tore down the portraits of King Baudouin and put up portraits of Lumumba in their stead: his eyes looked wrathfully through the glasses, reducing to ashes those who were seeking to restore the colonial yoke in Africa.
Such was Lumumba. Even after death he remained in the ranks of his people, who are continuing their struggle for freedom.