They are five. Five mixed-race women born between 1948 and 1952 under the Belgian Congo and kidnapped from their families because they were black and their father was white. They were parked, out of sight, in boarding schools reserved for them, in Catholic missions. Now in their seventies, they have filed a complaint against the Belgian state for crimes against humanity. The trial opened this Thursday, October 14 in Brussels. It is a historic trial. An estimated 20,000 Métis children suffered the same fate as the complainants.
“Neither black nor white, testifies Marie-José Loshi, we all ended up there because we had the same skin. Children of unknown fathers, children of sin set apart from all others “.
The “mulatto children”
At the time, they were called “mulatto children”, a term derived from mule, a cross between a donkey and a mare. This is to say how little consideration they enjoyed. Worse, the colonial authorities believed that they could jeopardize the segregationist system that prevailed in the Belgian Congo. In his book “Noirs – Blancs – Métis, La Belgique et la segregation des Métis du Congo belge – 2014”, historian Assumani, Budagwa explains: “The half-breeds are seen as a threat to colonial interests. They are seen as dangers because there is European ancestry and a drop of white blood […] they could be the seeds of revolt “.
This is why the Belgian authorities at the time decided to isolate these children who could not be allowed to live in broad daylight. They had to not be able to harm “racial prestige”, and above all, that they should not revolt against the colonial system, where blacks did not have the same rights as whites. A decree of August 4, 1952 grants administrative commissions the right to place children under the guardianship of the State. With the help of the Church, Belgium organizes kidnappings of children. She takes them away from their mother, cuts them off permanently from their loved ones.
We called The State daddy. So our daddy must recognize the harm he has done to his children
“The state must recognize the harm it has done to the ‘mulattoes’, this Monique Bitu Bingi, the harm he did to abandoned children. We were destroyed. Let the state accept this. We are demanding justice. Let him recognize what he did to us. We called The State daddy. So our daddy must recognize the harm he has done to his children. “
“How can we do, add Léa Tavares Mujinga, if we go to a psychologist, that’s not enough. That’s why we take the case to court“.
All their lives, these women, now grandmothers, have lived with this heavy secret. “We hid all that to be able to survive. We didn’t say anything to our husbands, or to anyone. We suffered too much. We didn’t say anything to our children either. You know, we treated our mothers as prostitutes. How to say that to our children “.
The nuns were indifferent to our fate
The complainants’ accounts are hardly believable. And yet, all the testimonies agree: “I remember, says Léa, stifled by emotion, when we arrived, we were put in a dormitory, on small beds, with a small blanket. The toilets were amazing. There was not even toilet paper. Just a hole in a cabin. At noon, we went to wash in a small stream, without soap. In the afternoon, we went to the village school, in the local language that we did not understand. (Editor’s note: they had been deported to Katenge, in Kassai, hundreds of kilometers from their homes). They were nuns from the congregation of Saint Vincent de Paul. There was only one who was maternal. It was the cook. The others were indifferent “.
At the age of 14, Léa was able to see her father, by chance : “I saw a gentleman who looked like me. I said to him: hello sir. He cried. He wanted to hug me. He said to me: I didn’t want to abandon you. He had returned to the Portugal to prepare for my arrival. When he returned, I had been kidnapped, and he did not know where I was “.
Marie José Loshi ended up in Belgium: “When I was 16, it was decided that I should be a nun. It was in 1964, at the time of the unrest. The sisters took me to Belgium. Recently I called my congregation to ask them if they had my file. “They told me they had nothing. I had no ID. Just a photo they sent to my lawyers. When we lived there, we were cut off from our families. We were cut off from our families. was like orphans “.
In June 1960, at the time of independence, their ordeal did not stop, on the contrary. Monique Bitu Bingi says: “At independence, the sisters abandoned us. There was no more room on the plane. We were told: go back to your mothers. We walked 200 kilometers to pick up our mothers… I We were eleven years old. We were lost there, abandoned. And we were among the rebels. I let you imagine what they did to us … Sometimes I can’t sleep. I hear the military trucks. have nightmares “.
Léa’s little girl discovered her story recently, while researching with her mother: “We knew we had a white great-grandfather, that he was Portuguese, but that’s it. When I was little, I thought we put all Métis children in convents. It hurts. When I see them, I find them very courageous “.
“The Belgian state, then colonizing, took the children from their mother in their village by force, explains the lawyer for the civil parties, Michèle Hirsch, only because they were mixed race. Their white father, their black mother. These children have been taken from their families, their culture, their language and sometimes they have been taken hundreds of kilometers to be placed in religious institutions under the care of the state. And the Belgian State was in reality the guardian of his children who were not abandoned by anyone “.
The apologies of the Belgian state have not been followed up
In 2019, Charles Michel, then Prime Minister, apologized on behalf of Belgium. But these women want formal recognition of the harm suffered and redress.
“This is the first time that the state will be asked in the context of legal proceedings that the faults it has committed with regard to our Métis clients are crimes against humanity. a long time ago, but our customers are still there, adds Michèle Hirsch.
After Charles Michel’s apology, the Belgian state did not adopt a reparation law. And despite his apologies, state lawyers contest the qualification of a crime against humanity and they adopt a defense that draws its arguments from the denial of history. They ask victims to provide proof of their harm. But how do you prove what happened? The archives of the time, the documents exchanged between the Colony and Belgium about these mixed-race children are still not accessible. ” Luckily, Michèle Hirsch tells us, one of the complainants went to the Congo 37 years ago and was able to retrieve valuable documents from the school where she was. “
“There was a small notebook with the names of all the Métis who were there. The dates of arrivals, those who went to school, my mother’s name, the sums of money that were paid to the nuns by the State, explains Monique.
The plaintiffs are asking for damages, but above all they are asking that their story be recognized and passed on to future generations, so that we are not forgotten.