Here are some salient features of Godefroid Munongo’s principles and values:
Every human being inherits values and principles that shape their character. Godefroid Munongo inherited Yeke values and principles, as much as he was influenced by the Christian religion and life experiences.
Throughout his life, Godefroid Munongo was led by these heterogeneous forces which nevertheless made him a constant man in his thoughts and behavior. He was honest, forthright, and genuine. His loyalty to Yeke tradition and his faith in God helped him overcome many challenges, such as the contradictions of a glorious childhood in the midst of European oppression, his education in Kisantu, far from his homeland, false accusations made by the clergy against his father, his participation in the Confederation of Tribal Associations of Katanga (CONAKAT), his role in the Katanga secession, his imprisonment at Bula Bemba (a prison located on an islet in the estuary of the Congo River), the vicissitudes of life, and his rise to the top of the Yeke Kingdom. This experiential, cultural, religious, traditional diversity made him an outstanding man in the context in which he lived.
Proud to belong to a rich African culture, he was the incarnation of multiculturalism, as were many Africans of his time. One day in Bunkeya, where he was fully committed to the Yeke tradition with all its twists and turns, the next day in Western capitals, where he was on holiday or business. However, there was no contradiction in this crisscross path.
Godefroid Munongo was a man of rare generosity. To understand where his giving habits came from, we must return to Bunkeya, where Yeke kings and notables were expected to help the disadvantaged. Also, we must return to his years of incarceration at Bula Bemba, a tragic period, which probably taught him much about life and its precariousness. We would be remiss if we didn’t include his church training, which instructs the faithful to strive to be like Jesus Christ. Throughout his life, Godefroid Munongo would teach us lessons of generosity, selflessness, love of neighbor, humility and respect due to employees, seniors, and young people. Respect is earned, he would say.
Godefroid Munongo was an amazingly humble man. He was extremely polite and courteous. At home he was as constant and dignified, as he was outside. He would call the boys by their first names and the girls by the polite use of ‘Mama’. One would not expect to see someone of his stature to behave in such a way. Interestingly, people returned many times over the respect he had shown them. Out of humility emanated indescribable power.
Though he was courteous, when someone disrespected him, he was very firm and direct. His anger, though legendary, was not without foundation. When disrespected, he would not waste a moment to show his dissatisfaction and put the culprit in their place. He rarely hid his irritation. From far or near, everyone knew it when he was angry because his voice would show it. When he was furious, it rumbled like thunder in the night. Even in public, the culprits took their flak. He did not hesitate to reprimand them, making clear what the offense was. This was difficult to take for some, but when the fault was exposed, it was hard to argue or seek an escape.
Godefroid Munongo was not infallible. Privately, there were times when our mother would remind him that he had erred or that he had been too harsh towards someone. As soon as she was done, he would simply say to her, “I understand”, “Nateleka” in Kisanga. It was as if he had taken an introspective look and was ready to move on. He was humble in all aspects and did not hesitate to say, “I made a mistake,” “Nabifya” in Kisanga. Often he would meet with the person he had reprimanded and would share with them what our mother had told him. He showed appropriate and balanced contrition. These were short phrases that spoke volumes about his awareness.
His traditional awareness Godefroid Munongo acquired of his fathers, KITANIKA and MUTAMPUKA (Future MUSANFYA), the best of traditional education. They set about teaching the young Mwanangwa the Bayeke customs, history and the Buyeke (a generic term that includes everything that distinguishes the Bayeke). They showed him different applications of the Yeke judiciary system and dispensation of the law. They also taught him to speak Kiyeke, their native language, which he spoke fluently. From them, he not only learned history, but he acquired the skills of managing human dynamics.
His daily routines Every day, Godefroid Munongo was awake at five in the morning. As soon had he risen and put on his robe and slippers, he would go outside to turn off the lights and do his morning prayer, which lasted no less than an hour. Sometimes, following his prayer, he would have a conversation with the guards about their problems or any other observations they had made on any topic. He repeated these actions every day. Depending on where he was, he would either go on the balcony or in the garden to pray. When the weather was inclement, he read the Bible in private. It was a routine that we had grown accustomed to. In times of joy or sadness, he put all glory in the hands of God.
Education Godefroid Munongo was of the generation that put great emphasis on education. He would remind everyone, including children, how much studies had enabled him to climb the ladder of Katangese society. Had it not been for his education, Godefroid Munongo would have never been the man history still remembers. Education being the key to success, he would encourage all those who were old enough to go to school to apply themselves and succeed. He provided both financial and logistical help to assist those who were willing to go to school. He paid tuition for a multitude of children and young adults, on the sole condition that they succeed. Education is the greatest guarantee for success.
On Family Godefroid Munongo made no distinction between family members. His unfailing memory enabled him to remember the different lineages, ancestors, and Yeke greetings (the Lukesho) which were suitable for each Yeke person he met. Godefroid Munongo could not stand family divisions, especially when it came to M’SIRI’s family. His greatest wish was that the descendants of M’SIRI know each other, thrive in Katanga, and that they cease to identify themselves as being descended from such an ancestor or another. In his eyes, all of M’SIRI’s descendants were one and should remain united.
On Katanga The same concerns that Godefroid Munongo had for his family, he had for Katanga. He abhorred the divisive tendencies within the Katanga family. These divisions were, in part, the reason the Katanga secession failed (1960-1963), of which Godefroid Munongo and his friends were the architects. He wished for the success of Katanga as an independent state or within a confederation of states. As long as the children of Katanga will be divided, he used to say, these ideals will be mere wishful thinking. Ultimately, the Katangese will be the losers, and of Katanga, only the name shall remain.
On loyalty Godefroid Munongo walked the walk and talked the talk. It was wonderful to see him maintain long-standing friendships with his “brothers in arms”, and those with whom he had worked for the greatness of Katanga. As young children, he would take us to visit his brothers, our Baba (polite formula for addressing elders). They were: Sapwe, Kishiba, Kibwe, Kambola, among others. And every day, in conversations or in prayers while driving around 6pm, we would recite the ‘Our Father’ together, and sing a hymn in Latin he had taught us. Towards the end of his prayer, he never failed to pray for his deceased brothers: Tshombe, Kimba, Mutaka, and others. We, his children, never got to know these men, but we respected them because we knew how important they were in his eyes. It is through tacit teachings and education that he taught us these things. His love for Katanga was contagious and unwavering, and so was his loyalty to his brothers.
On Death Toward his last days, a few weeks before his sudden death in Kinshasa, Godefroid Munongo had thought about his own death and had repeatedly shared with his sisters and other relatives that his days were numbered. Did he sense something? Without a shadow of a doubt. One thing is certain; he knew that death, sometimes like a thief, comes in the night to steal what is most precious. Godefroid Munongo died suddenly, and he was what many, including me and my family, considered precious.
True to the thinking of the Bayeke, Godefroid Munongo is not dead. His body is no longer of this earth, but we hang on to his hopes and thoughts for Katanga, his family, and the kingdom. And through it all, he lives. No person may alter what this man, as fallible as any man, did for Katanga, the Buyeke, and for many people.
We thank God that Godefroid Munongo ever lived.