May 29 – HELD HOSTAGE BY THE REBELS IN ZAIRE
HELD HOSTAGE BY THE REBELS IN ZAIRE
The Belgian Congo proclaimed its independence on 30 June 1960 and became the Democratic Republic of Congo. This vast country went through violent convulsions but part of Uele, the Province where our Brothers were working, was not affected. They continued to teach normally in Bondo and Baye until the 1964 summer holidays. In Bondo there were ten of them (seven from Belgium, one from Holland, and two from the Congo) and three Belgians in Baye. At the end of the 1964 school year, in June, four Belgian Brothers left for their regular home leave.
It was only after their departure that the spiral of violence began. Since January 1964 bands of rebels calling themselves the Simbas (lions) attacked the national forces (the ANC) and all influential people, including the European missionaries. They entered Bondo on 24 August 1964 and on 16 September ordered the Brothers in Baye to join their confreres in Bondo. For months the priests of the Holy Cross, the Brothers of St Gabriel and the nuns were subjected to various trials. The Simbas demanded money, helped themselves to anything that took their fancy, and forced them to attend the proceedings of the revolutionary tribunal as well as executions. In September they took the priests and Brothers to Stanleyville (Kisangani), 535 km away, then released them.
As the national forces were getting the upper hand in many places, the Simbas became increasingly excited. Fortunately on 28 October Major Makondo arrived in Bondo and managed to curb their excesses. He showed himself kindly disposed towards the whites. He was soon promoted colonel and moved to Buta, 200 km away. It is not unlikely that he took the decision, on 20 December 1964, to move all the missionaries from Bondo to Buta for their own protection. The missionaries included 21 priests, 3 Capuchins, 7 Brothers of St Gabriel and about 20 nuns.
These missionaries were to stay in Buta for five months, held hostage by the rebels but their living conditions in prison were much better than in Bondo. They could go about in the surrounding area and in the neighbouring villages. The colonel even allowed some Brothers to visit their confreres in Bangassou and Bangui in the Central African Republic and bring back some food. At the mission the seven Brothers were accommodated in the same room. They prayed together and did their best to make themselves useful. Br. Bernard prepared a history and geography book, Br. Laurent gave French lessons to the Simbas, Br. Gilbert taught them music, and Br. Hubert acted as their tailor.
On 26 May 1965 the national forces began to liberate the Uele territory. It was a long-awaited operation involving risks: how would the Simbas react in their dealings with the hostages? On 29 May at 7 p.m. they gathered them together (46 men and women religious and 4 laymen) in the local prison, with the men on one side and the women on the other.