Lumumba 'hit squad man' in South Africa

(Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

(Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

The man said to have been part of a hit squad that murdered Patrice Lumumba in 1961 has been living in South Africa for more than 50 years and may never have to face new questions about the circumstances of the Congolese liberation hero’s death.

The 89-year-old Charles Huyghé, a decorated war veteran, was the adviser to Joseph Yav, the secretary of defence in the state of Katanga where Lumumba was murdered. Huyghé is understood to have been absolved from further scrutiny after appearing in front of a Belgian parliamentary committee about five years ago, his legal representative, advocate Robin Ford, said.

“His alleged involvement was dealt with fully and disposed of,” Ford stated. “If there is any further evidence we will look at it and make considerations, but as of now the matter has been disposed of.
My client’s position on the matter is that he abides by the ruling of the Belgian Parliament. I would be surprised if his position was any different to what was ­officially adjudicated.”

Lumumba was elected prime minister of the Congo after Belgian colonial rule ended in 1960. His government was overthrown in a coup led by military head Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, later known as Mobutu Sese Seko, within months of his ascent to power. A United States government in the throes of the Cold War with the Soviet Union viewed Lumumba as a threat. He had received military aid and technical advice from the Soviets when the Belgians undertook to destabilise the Congo after independence. His assassination was orchestrated by the CIA in conjunction with the Belgians.

According to an article published in Belgian newspaper Nieuwsblad, some United Nations reports say Huyghé was a member of the hit squad that killed Lumumba, whereas others say he was at Luano Airport in Lubumbashi when Lumumba was taken from an aircraft to a villa as a captive. It would make him among the last people to have seen Lumumba alive. In this version Huyghé claimed to have left before Lumumba was taken away. The mystery of who gave instructions for the execution, as well as those who carried it out, has never been resolved, despite several investigations and parliamentary commissions.

But the Lumumba family is still pursuing the matter. Ten people are due to appear before a prosecutor in Brussels in June to make presentations that could lead to the truth about the execution. The family wants the matter tried as a war crime. There are indications that Huyghé is not included in the current group.

In 2002 Lumumba’s son, François, accepted an apology from the Belgian government when it expressed “sincere regrets” over the assassination, admitting to “apathy” and “cold indifference”. The apology, made by then-foreign minister Louis Michel, was hailed by François, the family’s spokesperson, as “a sign of political courage that must be congratulated”.

Around the same time Belgium set up a $3-million Patrice Lumumba fund, apparently in an effort to make amends. Its aim was to help “democratic development by financing ­conflict prevention, legal and youth projects”, the BBC reported. “We believe taking moral responsibility was not sufficient because moral responsibility has no standing in a court of law,” said Francois, speaking to the Mail & Guardian by phone through a translator this week.

Huyghé, sitting shirtless in shorts, with a walking stick next to his chair outside his home in Craighall—a wealthy suburb in the north of Johannesburg—seemed relaxed, even jovial, when visited by the by the M&G earlier this week, but abruptly ended our conversation before it even began, claiming failing senses and senility. “I know nothing at all about the murder of Patrice Lumumba. As you can see, I am deaf and can’t see,” he said, pointing to a magnifying device lying on top of an open textbook. “I have lived here in peace for 50 years and I have good relations with the Bantu.”

Exactly what Huyghé has been doing since his arrival here in 1962 is hard to establish. He is listed as the owner of a company called Ausbel Club Properties. His legal representative said the sum of his assets amounted to his house and one or two properties he was letting. He still lives in colonial splendour, in a spacious single-storey home with a sprawling lawn, a swimming pool and a cottage. He was made a Knight of the Realm in Belgium.

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo studied journalism at Durban's ML Sultan Technikon before working at Independent Newspapers from 2000 to 2003. In 2005, he joined the Mail & Guardian's internship programme and later worked as a reporter at the paper between 2006 and 2008, before working as a researcher. He was the inaugural Eugene Saldanha Fellow in 2011. Read more from Kwanele Sosibo

Client Media Releases

NWU specialist receives innovation management award
Reduce packaging waste: Ipsos poll
What is transactional SMS?
MTN on data pricing