Belgian colonial atrocities still haunt Congolese

Mivuya recalls his grandfather, whose hands were chopped off by Belgian master after he mocked him as a 'lazy Congolese'

Godfrey Olukya  | 11.02.2022 - Update : 12.02.2022
Belgian colonial atrocities still haunt Congolese

KAMPALA, Uganda 

The word “lazy” still terrorizes 84-year-old Simon Mivuya when he recalls his grandfather, whose hands were chopped off by a Belgian rubber trader during the dark colonial era of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

"His Belgian master punished him after casting him out with the word ‘lazy’," Mivuya told Anadolu Agency at his home in the western Uganda district of Kyegegwa, where he has been a refugee for the past 15 years.

"Muzeyi Mivuya, my grandfather, was not the only one who had his hands amputated. I was a small child when I saw many people in my Congolese village missing hands who had gotten the same punishment from the Belgian colonial masters for failing to produce enough rubber for export to Europe," he said.

Mivuya said his father also told him about the wretched lives of those who faced the rest of their lives without hands as a result of the same punishment since it was hard to meet the rubber quotas of the Belgian overseers.

"Many died after their hands were severed because they didn’t get any medical treatment," he recalled his father saying.

Belgians’ torture

According to Congolese lawyer Thomas Kiloshi, history books document how Belgians tortured and killed millions of Congolese under their colonial rule. "And the cruelest thing they did to the Congolese was cut off their hands because they didn't produce enough natural rubber," he told Anadolu Agency.

Belgian King Leopold II established his country as a colonial power in Africa and is known for the widespread atrocities committed under his rule, resulting in over 10 million people in the Congo dying, according to standard historical data.

Congo was under his control from the day he became king of Belgium in 1865 until 1908. He died a year after Congo was no longer directly under his rule.

Natural rubber was in high demand in Europe at the time, so he made sure to get as much as he could from Congo, where there were rubber/latex-producing trees in the jungle. He is said to have focused his economic interests on exports of rubber latex, an abundant product in the region's forests, and to have deployed troops to force the local population to serve his interests.

Rubber quota

"He introduced a quota of rubber latex that was supposed to be delivered to his soldiers in Congo by each mature individual in areas where there were natural rubber trees," said David Sangara, a retired history lecturer who now lives in Beni, a city in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

He said that in order to force people to produce a large amount of natural rubber, his soldiers began cutting off the hands of people unable to meet the quotas.

"Belgian troops amputated the hands of Congolese workers as a means of punishing those who did not meet their targets and also to exert pressure on the local population to ensure that the quotas were met," he explained.

He added that the hands which were chopped off were placed in baskets and displayed to other Congolese so that they would be scared and work harder.

Later, the international community became aware of the atrocities, forcing the Belgian government to intervene by seizing Congo from King Leopold II.

In 1908, one year before his death, he completed the process of transferring authority in Congo to the Belgian government.

 ‘Hard to believe’

Jean-Paul Nshungibiri, a Congolese refugee social worker in Uganda, told Anadolu Agency that his father, who recently passed away, told him how Belgians chopped off people's hands, and it took him a long time to believe it.

His father said the atrocitiess mostly took place in the provinces of Equateur and Haut Congo, where Belgians exploited forest and rubber while enslaving locals, he said.

"The Belgians can’t repair the damage caused to my country. I can only ask them to leave us alone now, and stop getting involved in our issues," he said.

"They’re always in our country through their agents. All of the wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo have mentioned their presence in the background,” he claimed.

“Leopold’s Belgium colonized our county and exploited it for a long time, enriching itself at home and leaving us poor. Belgium should compensate the families of those whose hands were cut off because they were unable to collect enough rubber,” said Lucas Leku, a Congolese secondary school history teacher.

"As Congolese, we can forgive Belgium for colonizing our nation, but we can never forgive the brutalities of cutting off people's hands," argued Jackson Bahati, a political coordinator for the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, the ruling party in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

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