20 August 1908
King Leopold II of Belgium handed over the Congo to the Belgian state on this date. Previously he held it as a private project undertaken to extract rubber and ivory in the Congo region of central Africa. He operated under the pretext of protecting the "natives" from Arab slavers and opening the heart of Africa to Christian missionaries. The king and his officials relied on forced labour and his reign resulted in the deaths of millions of Congolese. Reports of outrageous exploitation and widespread human rights abuses (including enslavement and mutilation of the native population), especially in the rubber industry, led to an international protest movement in the early 1900s. As a possession of Belgium, the Congo Free State became known as the Belgian Congo. After independence in 1960 it was renamed Zaire and is now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Pretoria News, Wednesday August 20, 2003. Today in History.