On this date in 1966, the Congo’s last civilian Prime Minister and three former cabinet officials “walked unfalteringly to the gallows in the main square”* of Kinshasa and were hanged before a crowd a hundred thousand strong as Lt. Gen. Joseph-Desire Mobutu consolidated his ruinous Zairian dictatorship.
A cycle of weak governments and nationwide chaos had befallen the resource-rich former Belgian Congo in the early 1960’s after the CIA eliminated the leftist Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. Evariste Kimba was, when the cycle ended in the fall of 1965, the most recent man to succeed to Lumumba’s title — though hardly his stature — in the tottering government of Joseph Kasavubu (or Kasa-Vubu).
Acting once again with western support, the general later to rename himself Mobutu Sese-Seko overthrew civilian rule on November 25, 1965.
To judge by either tenure (he ruled for more than 31 years) or personal enrichment (rumored to be $5 billion sapped from the poverty-ridden country during that time), Mobutu would rate as one of the 20th century’s most successful evil dictators.
But nobody knew at first that he wouldn’t be another forgettable here-today, shot-tomorrow general. And to see that didn’t happen, Mobutu showed the iron fist early, and made clear that he would brook no resistance, especially not from the old regime’s politicos. A true post-partisan, he declared in 1966 a five-year ban on party activity.
That formed the backdrop, or the pretext, or both, for squelching the “Pentecost Plot”, a supposed attempt by Kimba, along with former ministers Jérôme Anany, Emmanuel Bamba and André Mahamba, to mount a coup of their own.
Pentecost was Sunday, May 29 that year. The four were arrested on May 30 — “[o]n the morning of their arrest the Information Service of the Congo announced, in the name of the government, that they would ‘now appear before a military tribunal which will condemn them to death and they will be hanged.'” (source) When you know the result already, there’s no sense dragging things out: the Pentecost Plotters were tried, convicted and sentenced on June 1 (they denied the charges and received a six-minute deliberation), and hanged on June 2.
Kinshasa’s major football arena, Kamanyola Stadium, was renamed Stade des Martyrs de la Pentecôte in honor of this day’s victims shortly after Mobutu was ousted by guerrilla commander Laurent Kabila in 1997.