Desmond Fisher report from the Congo 10th October 1961 The Irish Press
IRISH AID IN HORROR CAMP Chaplain Works for Balubas
(From Desmond Fisher) ELIZABETHVILE (By Air Mail) —
The 40,000 Baluba men, women and children in the rag-and-cardboard refugee city in Elizabethville are ‘my children’ to Rev. Joseph Clarke, chaplain to the 35th Irish Battalion in the Congo.
Father Clarke is the friend, counsellor and refuge of the Balubas in all the terrible afflictions which are their lot.
Every morning, immediately after his Mass at 6:30 for the soldiers, Father Clarke sets out for the refugee camp near the Irish battalion headquarters. The camp chiefs wait for him and tell him their troubles — someone shot or hacked to pieces during the night; lack of food; danger from the Jeunesse Nationale Katanga, the teddy-boy youth movement which is terrorising the camp, and so on.
The chaplain moves round the different family groups in the camp speaking to them in his fluent French. He has organised the Irish section of the camp, where there are 5,000 families, into 14 groups. Each has its own administrative organisation which Father Clarke established. This administration supervises the daily distribution of food and settles disputes as to where the families can live.
Ordained in 1938, Father Clarke is an ‘old hand’ in Africa. He spent four years in Nigeria after his ordination before joining the Army as a chaplain. To him the African is a child, who will trust the European implicitly and will depend on him absolutely. This is fine until the African meets a white man who treats him badly or lets him down. Then he loses faith in all white men.
In Katanga, there are more white men than in most parts of Africa; therefore the chances that the African will come up against a “bad white” are greater. Fot that reason, Father Clarke thinks, the African in Katanga has become a different sort of person. He is no longer simply a bush native, and yet a few years in a white-dominated city do not turn him into a civilised, democratically-minded person in our sense.
“You cannot take a native out of the bush, educate him for a few years and expect him to be like yourself”, says the chaplain.
As regards “his” refugee camp, Father Clarke says that the sooner it closes down the better. It is becoming a hiding-place for criminals, and a breeding place of violence and murder. Almost every night someone is killed in the camp and some horrible atrocities have come to light.
The least revolting of them is the killing of a Katangese native, the servant of a gendarme officer, whom the Balubas caught as he was passing their camp. He was found dead next morning with his hands and feet cut off: he had bled to death. The camp has also attracted the 5,000 unemployed Balubas in Elizabethville who have come in for free food and accommodation, such as it is.
Father Clarke fears two things. One is that the rains which are due shortly will wash away the flimsy shelters of the refugees and force them to break into the nearby villas vacated by white people. His other fear is that the Jeunesse youths will become the pawns of Communist-type agitators, who will use them to stir up trouble.
But, despite the dangers, Father Clarke continues to give most of his time and energies to helping the 40,000 Baluba people to whom he is “father”. Oct 10 1961