On a day like today, January 17, 1961, the tortured Congolese militant Patrice Lumumba was brutally murdered.
When Congo gained its independence in 1960, the national liberation movement led by P. Lumumba won the first elections and formed a government. However, the USSR-friendly positions of the new government alarmed the imperialists, who backed the coup d’etat by Mobutu, overthrew the democratically elected government and dictatorship was imposed in the country.
His political career began as a trade unionist, when in 1955 he was elected president of a local branch of civil servants’ trade union; in 1958 he was one of the co-founders and soon became head of the Mouvement National Congolaise, the first Party in the country which was based on the representation of all tribes, sought independence and supported the exploitation of mineral wealth, which was controlled by Belgian and other European and American multinationals, for the benefit of the Congolese people.
On 23 June 1960 he formally assumed his prime ministerial duties in the presence of the Belgian King Bodouin. The ceremony was known for the criticism that the new prime minister expressed agaisnt the Belgian king in his speech, describing the atrocious torture his people suffered as “a destiny worse than death”.
In his speech at the Congo Independence Ceremony on June 30, 1960, as Prime Minister, he states: “Although this independence of the Congo is being proclaimed today by agreement with Belgium, an amicable country, with which we are on equal terms, no Congolese will ever forget that independence was won in struggle, a persevering and inspired struggle carried on from day to day, a struggle, in which we were undaunted by privation or suffering and stinted neither strength nor blood. It was filled with tears, fire and blood. We are deeply proud of our struggle, because it was just and noble and indispensable in putting an end to the humiliating bondage forced upon us..”
From the very first moment of his government , a coalition that secretly or openly included the Belgian government and its western allies, notably the United States, the business interests that exploited the wealthy resources of the Congo, as well as Lumumbas’s internal political opponents, was formed.
The Soviet Union supported Lumumba’s government but its protests at the UN and in the stormy meetings of the Security Council fell into the void. The discredited UN and its Swedish secretary Dag Hammarskjöld supported the plans of imperialism and did not protect the democratically elected government of Lumumba. As officially declassified documents prove, the Americans contributed with information and pressure to the UN so that the latter stay (as usual) inactive and to absorb Soviet reaction.
In September 1960, Lumumba was overthrown anti-democratically by the army chief, Colonel Mobutu who established a dictatorial regime with the support of the CIA. At the same time, he launched a manhunt for the capture of Lumumba, which yielded fruit on December 1, 1960. The Congolese leader was arrested and handed over to the secessionist regime of Katanga with the tolerance of peacekeeping forces.
Lumumba, along with his comrades Maurice Mpolo and Joseph Okito, suffered abuse for weeks at the prison of Hardy Camp; later on they were transferred to Katanga, where they were beaten by Belgian and local officials. On the night of January 17, 1961 they were driven to a secluded spot and executed. Their executors, wanting to eradicate the carcasses, buried , dismantled and dissolved them in sulfuric acid. The news on their death were announced three weeks later by local radio, under the false claim that Lumumba had been attacked by villagers during his escape.
The international public opinion reacted with indignation at the announcement of the murder of the African leader, and large demonstrations erupted in a series of large cities around the world. Inside Congo, some of Lumumba’s comrades, led by his former Minister of Education Pierre Moulet, continued their struggle, for a time with the support of Che Guevara, who arrived in the country in 1965, until their repression by Americans and South Africans missionaries of the racist regime. This definitive defeat led to the establishment of the Mobutu dictatorship, which renamed the country as Zaire in 1971, a deeply repressive regime that lasted for more than thirty years.
The WFTU has supported Patrice Lumumba’s efforts and action from the first moment. The international trade union movement organized dozens of protests against the murder of Lumumba and his comrades.
The memory of Lumumba still lives on in the memory of the people of Africa and every progressive citizen around the globe as a symbol of resistance to colonial exploitation. His name is given to the main highway of Kinshasa, but also in dozens of roads in countries in Africa, Europe, Cuba and Iran. In Moscow the largest university was honorary named “Lumumba University” after him.