LULUABURG TO THE COPPER BELT
AT LULUABURG there was a visiting missionary named Father Gielens
which means "chickens". He was sixty-eight and had been
in the district since 1915. He told us that there were still cannibals
round his mission of Maswika, one hundred and sixty miles away.
Only a few months ago, he told us a woman was eaten. Six people
were arrested but it was hard to find a witness who would speak
the truth about the terrible business. I was surprised to hear that
the Petro movement was at work in Lulu'. It originated as far away
as Rhodesia and is a hotchpotch of religion and politics, and is
Luluaburg is like Totshi in that it has a fine professional training
school. It was started only five years ago in a little thatched
hut, and now there were nine large workshops, where you can see
youths from fourteen years of age upwards learning various trades.
Here (and not at Totshi) Government had helped with about £200,000
of equipment. This mission of Luluaburg was the best staffed in
missionaries I had yet seen - possibly the best in Africa - in the
sense of numbers. There were forty-two missionaries serving some
thirty thousand Christians in five mission posts. Besides the mission
stations they also ran the professional college and schools in which
there were eight thousand children. The missionaries are the Flemish
I could hardly believe my eyes when I awoke on the Sunday morning
and saw thick fog. I thought I must be back in London. We were due
to fly to Elizabethville. "Be at the airfield at 9.30 a.m.
for a ten o'clock take-off." That we did and . . . . ? Quite
right we took off at half-past twelve! We landed unexpectedly
at Kamina with only half our journey completed, and we came down
with so much swaying and bumping that we feared the worst. But we
landed safely, and were told that the luggage needed redistributing.
The Captain ordered a lot of baggage to be left behind at Kamina.
He did not tell the passengers that. Had he done so there might
have been a free fight as to whose luggage should be taken and whose
left; "Why pick on mine? Ours was left behind but Sabena
Airlines delivered it twenty-four hours later to our residence with
many apologies. Some passengers had indeed suspected that their
luggage was being left at Kamina and they protested strongly. Had
I been the Captain, I think I should have left the protesting passengers
at Kamina instead !
We were met by a friend of Father de Decker and driven to
the Benedictine mission of St. John in Elizabethville. It was very
late but the monks, true to their traditions, gave us a welcome
which could not have been warmer or more pleasant.
The Benedictines have four parishes in the town of Elizabethville
and a great social centre with a games stadium capable of holding
ten thousand people. The first thing I noticed next morning in the
church was that the pictures were African. Thank God, and the wisdom
of the Benedictines.
We went to see the social centre of the great Union Miniere. It
was well equipped and had, among other good things, a nursery school
for the babies while their mothers attend the domestic science classes.
Seventy-five per cent of the women whether Christians or
not go to the classes in one of three different centres in
the town. The training is transforming African life and raising
the standard of the homes enormously. I met two Benedictines in
their familiar habit with scapular and cowl white, of course.
They had fifteen thousand Christians to care for in their particular
parish and were overworked. One told me:
"We hear confessions for an hour each day from Mondays to Fridays,
and on Saturdays from six in the morning until nine-thirty in the
evening! People will wait four or five hours for their turn. We
break off on Saturdays in turns for Mass and meals. The parish is
growing at the rate of four thousand inhabitants a year, many of
I met Father Bernard in the midst of a seething mass of children:
5,333 in all. They were assembled for prize-giving. The priest's
job was to look after their education. He had to supervise one hundred
and seventeen African teachers and provide twenty-eight new classes
a year for the boys alone, and the classes were still too large
with fifty to seventy children in each. I saw a school building
almost every five hundred yards. Five hundred miles away, I was
told, the position was the same, only worse. There, one of the two
Benedictines was ill and the other had to cope with twelve thousand
Catholics. He had a priest to help him at weekends . . .
Fifty years ago, a few Benedictine monks from St. Andrew's monastery
near Bruges, came to this southern tip of the Congo to found a monastery,
as was done in Europe in medieval times. Theirs was to be the life
of cloistered monks, and the secular priests who came with them
were to take charge of the ministry. The need for active priests,
was however so obvious and so pressing that the monks decided to
give up their idea of a monastery, for a time, and establish missions
instead. They occupied an area the size of Ireland and they finally
had four-hundred churches and bush chapels with 150,000 Catholics,
but still no monastery. In God's' good time came the reward for
their sacrifice, for at Kansenia, one hundred and fifty miles away,
there are now over seventy African monks and novices in the Monastery
of St. Benedict.
I called on the Bishop, John Hemptine, O.S.B., and sat in
his small, bare study for he is oblivious to comfort. A layman
told me: "We've provided the money for him to build a decent
house for himself several times, but he always spends it on a new
mission." I found the Bishop as straight as a Guardsman in
spite of his 81 years. He had beetling eyebrows and the flashing
eyes of a pioneer. He said to me: "Remember that St. Benedict
first demolished the pagan temple on Mount Cassino and evangelised
the people: and the Benedictine Pope St. Gregory sent monks to evangelise
your own country, England."
The Benedictines are doing the same thing here, and it was fascinating
to realise, as I walked round their cloister in the heart of Africa,
that these were monks of the same great Order: living the same rule.
They might have been the same men, come back after centuries. In
the midst of the activity going on all around me at the mission,
the Fathers were as serene as any I have seen in a monastery at
home. Their motto Pax; the peace of Christ remains yesterday,
today, and for ever in their souls. It was a tremendous experience
and a remarkably good lesson. One hundred yards away, a great crowd
was watching a football match between railway workers and the bank
clerks of the town: all a part of the mission work of these quiet,
In the morning, as I mounted to the altar, I rejoiced to see that
the Archangel Gabriel of the fresco was as dark as any African I
had seen. It was no foreign religion that the monks had brought.
Hundreds of Africans sang the Mass, in honour of St. Benedict, whose
Solemnity it was. They sang the Mass in Swahili, the lingua franca
of Central Africa, as well as in Chibemba, the local tongue. While
they sang, a train of copper ore for we were in the Copper
Belt thundered past, shaking the church. Ever ancient, ever
new, the ageless monk was at his ageless task in the modern world
of machines in this new country. With good reason Benedictines everywhere
can be proud of their missionary brethren in the Congo: "Obedient
men at the service of the Church".
There was a fine housing scheme near the mission. I saw houses at
every stage of building, being constructed by the Africans themselves.
The foundations were provided for which £21 was paid. It is
called the Grevisse System after a District Commissioner
or the Belgian equivalent of Elizabethville. It looked to
me a very good scheme, but I have had sufficient experience to know
that the "passer-by" can easily be mistaken. These houses
were being built for the miners, instead of compound dwellings.
The miners were doing the job in their free time, for themselves.
Africans hate compounds as much as I should. As one driver said
to me: "We don't like these compounds. We want to be free to
buy our own food and things: to have our friends in our homes: we
don't like the compound boss."
A compound naturally supposes organisation and a certain amount
of regimentation. When a lot of new workers come to a place, the
mining companies have to find accommodation for them, and the compound
seems the easiest answer, perhaps, for a time, the only answer.
It would seem, however, that after a time something like this Grevisse
Scheme is called for. There is nothing like private property to
safeguard peace. In Rhodesia, I was told, great efforts were made
to provide free lodgings for the miners but the lodging was tied
to the job, and one lost the lodging if one left the job. A man
will not bring his family from the Bush to such an insecure future,
and one of the most important matters to consider in these mining
areas is the family life of the miner who comes in from the Bush.
At Elizabethville generous grants were made to the men to encourage
them to build their own houses and settle down. They could also
get lodging allowances and live where they like. The welfare work
for women at the social centre takes on a new importance when we
understand that these women are being trained to look after properly
built houses; their own homes in which they can and will take a
Mr Joseph Kiwele brought his children's choir to the mission
to sing for us. These eighty youngsters are known as the ''Little
Singers of the Copper Cross", for remember we were in the Copper
Belt. Each wore a small copper cross. I had a chat with Mr. Kiwele
who is an accomplished musician; he has already composed a Mass.
He interested me very much. His great criticism of Government was
that it was not working hard enough at higher education for the
Father Theopane, O.S.B., the Superior of the Junior Seminary,
joined us for lunch. He told me how he had taken a party of seminarists
hunting in the bush. He wounded a buffalo, and being an experienced
hunter, he knew how dangerous that was. He sent the boys scuttling
up trees and followed suit himself : it was ten o'clock in the morning.
They waited until five o'clock in the afternoon without seeing any
sign of life from the buffalo which had disappeared in the long
grass. It would be dark before long and a journey through the bush
at night was not to be contemplated. So, at five o'clock, he thought
it was safe to come down from his tree. He was gathering up his
goods when the great beast charged out from the long grass and homed
him in the stomach; it retired a little and charged again, and again
his horn struck the priest. It came at him a third time but suddenly
its horn struck the ground and it turned over and died. The priest
was taken to hospital where he endured eleven operations, but recovered
and was still alive to tell us the tale.
I assisted at a delightful wedding. The local Scoutmaster married
the local Gym Mistress, and the school boys sang the Mass, and did
it splendidly. In the afternoon the bride and bridegroom came with
their parents to the social centre for drinks and speeches. It was
all very friendly and informal, but the women sat apart from the
men, except for the bride who was with her parents. There was an
orchestra of traditional African instruments playing, in spite of
the roar of a football crowd in the nearby mission stadium. Anyone
who cared to do so came to the party and had a drink, and one realised
how Cana-like this might have been. One could see how easily the
drinks might have run out, however well the staff worked !
I said my Mass at a nearby military camp on the Sunday, and in the
afternoon I attended the cycle races in the stadium. The affair
was very well staged with a band playing, and the races themselves
thrilled the yelling crowd. While chatting with Father Rombault,
O.S.B., he told me of an African who was buried a few days before
under a load of tree trunks from an overturned lorry. It was five
hours before they found the man . . . unhurt and fast asleep. While
the church of Elizabethville was being built, an African worker
fell from the half-finished tower on to his head. It was feared
that he was dead. Some whisky was given him just in case.
He went into a natural sleep and woke up four hours later, opened
his eyes, saw a very anxious Brother at his bedside and murmured
: "More medicine!"
The Mines' Company kindly lent us a car and a driver to go the two
hundred miles to Jadotville, and on our way we stopped at Luisha
where the Ursulines had a different kind of school. It was for the
education of the daughters of what the French would call the "Evolues".
They were chosen from good Catholic homes and their fathers were
the better educated workers at the mines. In lovely surroundings
they were prepared to be the wives of the better class workers and
the mothers of the future leaders amongst Catholics. The standard
of this boarding school was high above that of the ordinary African
home. The idea seemed excellent, for these girls should eventually
raise the primitive condition of their native villages and so in
time bring about an African middle-class. There were two hundred
and fifty girls in the school. The Ursuline nuns also had a noviciate
for African Ursulines.
The Benedictine Fathers at Jadotville gave us the welcome we had
now come to expect from the sons of Saint Benedict, but what we
saw was nothing new. It was a replica of Elizabethville mission.
Two priests and fifteen thousand Christians one priest away
ill, as I have already noted. The town was built on copper but the
local mine was exhausted and the ore now came from other mines and
is refined here by the most modern methods. The African population
is seventy thousand and there were several social centres for them.
At its centre one of the missions had a stadium that put Elizabethville's
into the shade; it had accommodation for twenty thousand spectators.
The African town is also on the Grevisse System, and again I heard
how much the Africans hate compounds and prefer some freedom to
build their own houses.
We visited the mines, especially the welfare and social centres,
hospital, workshops, etc. In the hospital was a Sister of Charity
from Ghent who had seen eighteen thousand babies safely into the
world, at an average of five a day. The hospital had five European
doctors. It seemed to me a pity that all the nurses, mostly Sisters
of Charity, were Europeans, although there were some African "trained
helps". I noticed that in the workshops the Africans were trusted
with all kinds of intricate, valuable machinery, and it was not
easy to believe that the African girls could not be trained as nurses.
I know that as soon as they are trained they will almost certainly
be married and leave the hospital. But how wonderfully useful a
trained nurse would be in her village or even in her own family.
The African workmen appeared to be happy, and were all smiles when
we spoke to them. An ordinary workman got about £7 10s. 0d.
a month, free house, family allowances and food rations. An advanced
worker received cash with which to buy his own food, but was given
rations for his wife and family. A still more advanced workman got
cash to buy both his own and his family's food. It seemed a curious
arrangement, but I daresay the motives for it were good enough.
The trouble is that it is "paternalistic" and growingly
resented by Africans who hear of other systems; for example, in
nearby Rhodesia. The Belgians say that many of the people are not
accustomed to buying food in the shops and would not know what to
buy, but once they get the habit of "eating well' they are
able to do their own shopping and choose a reasonably balanced diet.
I don't know whether the prosperity of the Copper Belt accounts
completely for the happy cheerful people I met everywhere, but the
contrast with the sullen faces of Sierra Leone, for instance, was
most marked. The Belgians were very proud of what they had accomplished.
Only their complacency somehow struck a discordant note. I had been
told on good authority that Communism is hard at work among the
miners especially among the so-called "intellectuals";
but when I asked Belgians about it, they denied it.
"No signs of Communism," they said. When I asked about
Trade Unions I was told: "What earthly use would Trade Unions
be here we give the men everything they need." Maybe,
but I wondered if the Belgians were not doing some wishful thinking.
The workers travel around and they learn how things are in other
places. If you want the rare experience of hearing people singing
the praises of the British in Africa, listen to the better educated
Africans in the Congo. There, too, the Africans are becoming more
and more conscious of their maturity, in which there is little place
for European paternalism.
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