A SMALL motor-launch took us over the mighty
Congo river. There was no colour bar but there were some interesting
differences. At the landing stage there was a notice: "Reduced
fares for Africans". "Very considerate," I thought.
On the boat, however, those with "reduced fare" tickets
had special accommodation. There were no Africans apparently with
"ordinary" fare tickets.
French town, Brazzaville, and, the Belgian town Leopoldville glare
at each other across the river. It took us half an hour to cross.
Only half an hour, but in that time we were taken from one world
into another. There was a small landing stage at Leopoldville and
we passed easily through the Customs and Immigration authorities
and set off for the Marist House where we were going to stay.
The Marist Brothers, who run schools in the Jesuit missions here,
gave us a warm welcome and a good deal of fun at our first meal.
They had two pet monkeys, one of which stole the quinine from the
table and the other took Leo's bread and butter when he was looking
the other way.
Leopoldville struck me as being a white man's town. The Africans
live together on the outskirts. Opposite the Marists, the Sisters
of the Sacred Heart have a school for European girls. It gave me
some idea of how much the Belgians use the Congo, to see about two
thousand white girls in the school. There was a handful of African
girls too, but not many. Twenty-six big buses carry the day-girls
to and from school every day ! Down the road a thousand boys were
in a big school run by the Jesuits in which the Marist Brothers
also teach. Most of the pupils were white boys, for it is only lately
that the school has become slightly inter-racial. The school was
a wonderful place. It even had its own Broadcasting Station which,
before and during the war, was the only one in the Congo. It still
had a two-hour programme every Sunday and was directly linked with
"Radio Congo Belge".
We called on Monsignor Scalacs the Vicar Apostolic of Leopoldville.
He is a member of the Society of Fathers of Scheut in Belgium. After
telling us of his efforts to get priests and brothers from Belgium
to take over his schools and release his missionaries for actual
mission work, he went on to talk about the great secret society
in these parts. It is called the Kibangi Society, and in spite of
being outlawed is still very powerful. A few weeks before when the
Bishop was blessing some bells for a church, the Kibangis came and
held a public meeting, five-hundred strong, nearby, in order to
be a nuisance. Kibangism is strongly anti-white and anti-Christian.
It acts under a religious cover. The Vicar Apostolic predicted trouble
from this and other secret societies. A strongly nationalist newspaper
called "Congo" was also causing trouble.
I felt a tenseness and a sense of fear in the air. Young Belgians
had come out to the Congo full of good will and sympathy for the
Africans but they said the Africans soon showed that they did not
trust them. Disappointment followed and frustration and finally
antipathy. Trouble is brewing. The different standards of life are
too brutally emphasised in this town of magnificent modern buildings
where the European often lives at a level undreamt of at home. There
was a small riot at a football match a week before my arrival, some
cars belonging to Europeans were stoned. The Belgians were not used
to this sort of thing. It seemed to throw them into a panic. They
should take courage from a bit of our own troubled colonial history
! I think serious trouble lies ahead but instead of talking of liberal
co-operation there is a lot of talk of getting out quickly.
If only people, ourselves included, could realise that it is our
mental attitude, our superiority complex, which is so galling to
the awakening African. Of course, we give all sorts of good things
to Africa, including money, but we find it so hard to give the one
thing which matters; recognition of the African's dignity as a man.
Without this the gifts only make the bitterness deeper.
The Belgians have started a new housing scheme for the Africans
on an immense scale. I went out to see what was being done at Leopoldville.
The Africans' equivalent of our slums were being cleared out completely
at the rate of thirty thousand houses a year. The old wretched African
hut was going, and on the outskirts of Leopoldville, a new African
town was being built. Mass production was in its glory and you could
stand by and see the finishing touches given to a house every twenty
minutes. Twenty-five new houses completed every working day. Churches,
schools, police stations all were going up at the same time.
I went into one of the finished houses. It had four rooms, a kitchen
and a bathroom. Each room was a different colour, there was running
water and all modern commodities. It would be the dream house for
many a newly-wed couple in Europe. The cost was about £ 1,350
payable by rent. But the Africans did not want these houses. They
would like new houses, but they wanted to build their own in their
own way. Hundreds of the houses were still empty; but as the building
of them continues. I supposed they were merely waiting for slum-clearance
to take place by order". I was told that in the south
of the Congo the Government lays the foundations of the houses and
then allows the buyer to build a house in the way he wants on those
In the afternoon we went to the University which is functioning
although only half built. We consulted a map of the town to find
our way and sailed along a fine road, but came to a dead end. Back
we went to a cross roads and consulted the map. After three quarters
of an hour of this kind of thing we again finished up at a dead
end where huge scrapers and tractors were at work.
"Where is the road to the University?" we asked. "This
is it! It will be ready by Christmas!"
The map had merely anticipated the road, and we finally found the
long way round. The University, called the Lovanium, is inter-racial.
It is a Catholic University, recognised as such by the Holy See
and affiliated to Louvain University in Belgium. I was especially
interested to see how the various African peoples got on together
- apart from the usual White-Black difficulties. Members of many
different tribes from the Congo seem to be reasonably happy together
at the Lovanium. There were no fights. But the people from Ruanda-Urundi
were kept at a distance by the Congolese, who appeared to make block
against them. This was particularly true of the Batutsi, those tall
regal looking "Aristocrats" of Urundi, who seem to get
on more easily with Europeans than with other Africans. Europeans
and Africans in general lived side by side but there is not yet
any real intermingling of minds. That will come, please God, with
time. There were already over three hundred students in the half-finished
At Leopoldville the Young Christian Workers built their own centre
and it does them great credit. I attended a committee meeting, when
a dozen Africans joined the three Belgians who help to run it. I
had a chat with the Belgian Secretary who was quietly confident
about the future of the Church in the Congo. He said that the African
Christian Movement was going forward well, but he was not so confident
about the position of the white people there. The Belgians were
getting more and more frightened of African "Nationalism",
and were being discouraged too by the Africans.
The Secretary found the evolution normal. He said that the Congolese
were becoming more and more conscious of themselves as a people:
and more conscious of the world and the African's place in it. The
African was trying to place himself in the world he had newly discovered:
he was a bit bewildered; an adolescent in the crisis of growing
up. He had to assert himself, express himself, react against anything
which he felt limited him in his aspirations. That certainly explains
a good deal of what is to be seen and felt all over Africa today.
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