MUD AND MOSAICS

Chapter 14

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 savagely anti-White.

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 Scheut Fathers.

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 them Christians."

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, serene, monks.

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 real pride.

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 people.

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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