WERE THERE DESCRIMINATIONS IN CONGO?

All this legislation was obviously discriminatory since it concerned only indigenous people: whites had to finance their security and social protection individually, either by themselves or by their employers. It was considered that the level of their income allowed them to do so. The nature of their duties was also considered incompatible with any limitation on the duration of their work and with the prevention of the risks to which they were exposed: the latter were considered, along with other disadvantages, such as family, health, etc., to be inherent in expatriation. A fictitious premium was supposed to cover these risks: it was equal to the difference in remuneration between those of the colonial and the metropolitan worker of the same qualification.

 

Other discriminations resulted from the difference in legal regimes. Blacks were subject to their old unwritten customary law, which was applied by wise men who had preserved its tradition and all the flexibility of interpretation that was given free rein in the "palaver". However, the custom had been purged of its most severe practices, which were considered cruel: for example, the application of the "chicote", often blamed on the colonial system, but which was, in fact, a pre-colonial customary punishment, had been gradually limited to eight blows, then abolished in 1958. Whites, for their part, were subject to the rigors of written law, inspired by Belgian law.

 

The protection of indigenous interests was the basis of the land tenure system: their land could in principle only be occupied by them, and "vacant land", in order to be used, had to give rise to a special investigation procedure to verify whether "indigenous" rights would not be violated in the present or in the future, and to what extent compensation had to be paid. For example, the felling of a single tree in the equatorial forest could give rise to the right to financial compensation for the benefit of the closest indigenous community. A dense body of legislation, known as "indigenous protection" legislation, safeguarded the other rights of the indigenous people, which arose from their customs or "human rights", and which had been imposed on the Belgian Congo long before it was enforced by the United Nations. In addition, especially after the war, social legislation based on European models (duration, safety, and health at work, pension scheme, family allowances) was introduced, especially for workers from non-traditional backgrounds.

 

In the sense of discrimination unfavorable to Blacks, the most visible in the cities was obviously the separation of "cities", European on one side, Black on the other, and places of relaxation and pleasure: bars, restaurants, cinemas, etc. This was not the result of legal provisions that would have instituted a kind of apartheid, but simply the fact that European settlements were originally established, and then developed, next to and on the fringes of the indigenous villages. Would it have been necessary, in order to prevent further accusations, for them to settle shamelessly in the midst of the indigenous habitat? The profound difference in lifestyles has perpetuated the de facto situation from the beginning, and police practices aimed at maintaining order and security in their respective environments have to some extent institutionalized it. Significantly, when co-education was encouraged, it was very short-lived: very quickly, blacks and whites resumed the habit of mixing only in the workplace; in the evenings, each went home to his or her familiar surroundings. This is still the case today, almost forty years after Independence.