Matonge, a story of Congolese immigration

Luxury tourism

A history which began at the beginning of the 1960s, when the independence of the Congo was proclaimed after 75 years of colonisation. A certain Congolese elite, wealthy, started to travel, and Brussels become a fashionable destination. The presence of these ‘new tourists’ would crystallise around the Porte de Namur, the Congo Embassy and the bus line which linked up to the Free University of Brussels. In short, around the area which was yet to be called Matogne.

This name is in reality that of a lively neighbourhood in Kinshasa, well known for its bars and restaurants. The same spirit would be transposed to the Brussels triangle. During the 1970s several dance halls opened their doors in the area, including the ‘Mambo’ discotheque, which would see parading within its walls the top representatives of the Congolese elite, African ambassadors posted to Europe, celebrities such as Bob Marley and several members of Belgian high society. Many air hostesses as well: during the period the Air-Zaire airline offered no less than five flights a week! It was always full of politicians, government officials and business people, ‘who wanted to spend a weekend in Brussels, sometimes just to eat a meal of mussels and fries!’ recounts Sarah Demart. ‘Certain politicians could blow up to 7,500 Euros in an evening. Which proves that money could invert power relationships on a racial basis and that it really has no colour.’

A site for partying, short-stay pursuits and then, rapidly, for business. The Congolese invested in the shops of the Ixelles galleries, progressively relinquished by Belgian shopkeepers.

At the time it was never a question of settling down in Belgium. Matogne was never a residential area. People went there to enjoy themselves, do business and study at university. Always with the idea that they would return back to their country. Becoming a refugee? Out of the question! Up until the beginning of the 1980s this status was synonymous with shame, scandal and infamy. Whoever became a Belgian citizen had to put up with stares and insults. ‘Tala ngunda oyo.’ ‘Look at that refugee there.’


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