Patrice Lumumba in Brussels : a square against forgetting

27 June by Jérôme Duval , Robin Delobel


In the middle, Patrice Lumumba (CC - Wikimedia).

For more than 10 years associations had been demanding that a public square be named after the assassinated former Congo Prime Minister in Belgium’s capital, Brussels.

On 23 April Brussels’ City Council decided by a unanimous vote that a public square would be named after Patrick Lumumba, as requested for years by the Congolese and African communities. A statue will be erected in the memory of the former Congolese PM on ‘square du Bastion’, at the gate of Matonge, an area of Brussels where lots of Congolese people have settled.

Democratically elected at the time of the independence, Patrice Lumumba had challenged the Belgian authorities in an anti-colonialist speech which became famous in 1960, six months prior to his assassination on 17 January 1961 with Belgian officials aiding and abetting.

Shortly before this historic vote, Zoubida Jellab, one of the Ecolo Groen city councilors, delivered a fair and necessary speech: ‘This is a historic deed we are undertaking today altogether in naming a public square dedicated to the memory of Patrice Lumumba, Congo’s national hero, and thus a reference to our common history. First of all, we are lifting our thoughts toward him who was assassinated in horrible circumstances, to his family, his close relatives, the Congolese people, the African descendants and all the colonized and oppressed people.’ But this belated gesture is not enough, she added: ‘We are in favor of a statue or why not a memorial gate but there must be as well (….) a commemorative sheet in memory of all the victims of our wrongdoings and crimes in Burundi, Rwanda and of course in the Congo.’ The Brussels Parliament senator and vice president Bertin Mampaka acknowledged that ‘we cannot erase the Belgian colonization of the Congo with one pencil stroke or through some journalistic decision, our children, and the Belgians in general must know their history. Lumumba is a part of that great history.’

For Bertin Mampaka, who had insisted in front of the council so that the vote would be in this direction, the unanimous vote is ‘a great relief.’ Zoubida Jellab tells us: ‘It’s probably the best moment in my career as a city councilor. It’s a great emotional moment to share Share A unit of ownership interest in a corporation or financial asset, representing one part of the total capital stock. Its owner (a shareholder) is entitled to receive an equal distribution of any profits distributed (a dividend) and to attend shareholder meetings. with all the city council, at last aware of the confusion and despair of the African community. It was a duty to respond to this plight and indeed a universal responsibility.’ Still it wasn’t a forerun conclusion. In 2013, a vote of the city council of Ixelles (one of the 19 municipalities in Brussels, where Matonge is located, with at the time a majority of liberals and socialists) had rejected the request, saying that Lumumba wasn’t a federating figure. This time it’s the city of Brussels-center which voted unanimously, somewhat pushed by several demos towards this act of gratitude.

To acknowledge colonial crimes and the harm done to the population is an essential democratical step and a sign of respect to the colonized people. In 2008, the CADTM took part in the collective Mémoires coloniales (Colonial memories), formed on the occasion of the celebration of the centenary of Belgium taking over the Congo that had so far been King Leopold II’s private property, to demand excuses and compensations of the Belgian State to the Congolese people. These compensations will have to take into account the physical sufferings of the Congolese during the colonial era (under the reign of Leopold II and the Belgium colonial administration up to 1960) and the fortune accumulated by the royal family and the Belgium State due to the forced exploitation of the populations and of the natural resources of the Congo.


When struggle pays off

Almost over ten years now, associations have launched a campaign to demand a Lumumba square in Brussels. First of all, by unveiling a big sign : ‘A Lumumba square in Brussels, why not? Waarom niet? Warum nicht?’ Recently, the artist Rhode Makoumbou made a life size sculpture of Lumumba from sawdust and glue, named ‘Patrice Lumumba, June 30, 1960 independence speech’ unveiled on January 21, 2018 in the Ravenstein mall, close to Brussels central rail station. That art work has then been relocated into different places of Brussels. Philip Buyck, who has been involved in this struggle since the beginning, organized on the day of the vote, April 23, the exhibition ‘Congo poker, the Lumumba library exhibited’ in the Saint Géry market, in downtown Brussels. It covers the period from the Leopoldville riots starting in January 1959 till the assassination of Lumumba in 1961. It gives a foretaste of the library created by Philip Buyck without any subsidy in Matonge in tribute to Patrice Lumumba with more than 10,000 books on colonization, the Congo and Africa in general.

Some pages of our history seem difficult to reopen. It took almost 40 years for Belgium to try to officially clarify the role it played in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba and of two of his partners, Joseph Okito, former vice president of the Senate, and Maurice Mpolo, former Minister of Youth and Sport, also executed. Following the publication of the book The Assassination of Patrice Lumumba by Ludo De Witte, a parlementary investigation commission to determine the exact circumstances of ‘murder with premeditation’ of Patrice Lumumba had concluded in 2001 that Belgium had a ‘moral responsibility’. It took until 2002 for the Foreign Affairs Minister of the time, Louis Michel (the father of the present Prime Minister) to apologize to Lumumba’s family and to the Congolese people in the name of Belgium.
Even if there still remains many things to reveal and denounce, the Lumumba square is a historic victory, an acknowledgement, which, belated though it is was more than necessary to counter oblivion, while a statue of the Belgium King Leopold II, who was responsible for over a million of dead and missing between 1885 and 1908, has pride of place in downtown Brussels. In France, a street in the 16th arrondissement in Paris and one in Villefranche-sur-Mer still bear his name.

An example in Brussels to be followed elsewhere? The Belgium Workers’ Party (PTB) in Liège wishes that the city of Liège should do the same and name either a street or a square after the former Congolese Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, estimating that he was a «major figure of decolonization ». The PTB Federal MP, Raoul Hedebouw, states that ‘Lumumba is not a stranger in our city (Liège) because he visited it many times, especially in 1956, 1959 and 1960.’ The city of Charleroi did not wait and gave a street the name of Lumumba in December 2017.

The inauguration of the Lumumba square, located at the corner of Chaussée d’Ixelles and rue du Champ-de-Mars, at the gate of the Matonge area, a lively and important place for many Congolese and Africans in Brussels, is scheduled next June 30, on the 58th anniversary of the Independence of the present Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It will be also the opportunity to exchange during several debates, to open the buried pages of our history and to discover or to make others discover the great figure of Patrice Lumumba, against oblivion, at long last.



Source : Politis

Translation: Kenny Mboyo Djweya

Jérôme Duval

member of CADTM network and member of the Spanish Citizen’s Debt Audit Platform (PACD) in Spain (http://auditoriaciudadana.net/). He is the author, with Fátima Martín, of the book Construcción europea al servicio de los mercados financieros (Icaria editorial, Barcelona 2016) and he also co-authored La Dette ou la Vie (Aden-CADTM, 2011), which received the award for best political book in Liège (Belgium) in 2011.

Robin Delobel

Permanent au CADTM Belgique

Translation(s)

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