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Cameraman tales: Ed Vankan – Stanleyville massacre 1964

In the early sixties, Ed Vankan was a UPMT/UPIN cameraman.  He was sent to the former Belgian Congo to cover the fighting between Belgian forces, Congolese political groups and mercenaries who attached themselves to all sides.  While in the area, he contributed written reports to UPI.  One can only assume that he wrote his report during a lull in the fighting, if there was one.

Towards the end of November 1964, he was in Stanleyville (now known as Kisangani) from where he reported on the actions of the Belgian Army, the Rebels and the mercenaries.

In an article he rote for UPI, he observed that the Belgian Army had their automatic rifles ready for trouble. He witnessed an incident when Belgian paratroops stopped an African riding a bicycle.  He was carry a large bunch of bananas on his head.

A paratrooper asked him if he was a Muleist (Pierre Muiele was a Communist-backed Congo rebel leader).  The man said that he was not.  The paratrooper said “You are lying” and then he shot him dead.

Belgian soldier lying in front of dead hostage...

Belgian soldier lying in front of dead hostages in Stanleyville (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This was Stanleyville 36 hours after Belgian paratroops had struck with  ferocious power at the heart of the Congo rebels’ heartland.

Ed Vankan observed that “Life is an empty hell here”.  Shops are shut tight.  All Government and municipal services are broken down.  The streets are almost deserted”.

He observed: “Only the dead see the military traffic passing by late Tuesday bodies were everywhere”.

“Even at the Sabena Guest House,” the Stanleyville resident said, “there were bodies.  They were African.  No one really knows how many”.

He was told that, among the 27 Europeans killed as they tried to run to safety at the airport, the missionary Dr. Paul Carlson was seen.

“The quietest place in Stanleyville yesterday appeared to be the formerly fashionable Hotel des Chuttes, now serving as headquarters for Tshombe’s white mercenaries”.

Having been sent in to cover the action with a movie camera, Ed Vankan found time to observe, enquire and write up the story for UPI.  It was published a week after he wrote it.  This is an indication of the lack of communication of the day and of that location.

However, there is a story attached to this that was widespread at UPIN at Denham.  It was that the press had been offered no transportation to get to Stanleyville and that Ed Vankan had smuggled himself on to a relief aircraft and locked himself in the toilet.  He emerged while the plane was in flight and they had to keep him on board.  On arrival at the airport at Stanleyville, it was under fire from rebel forces.

His film of the action was first-class cinematic reporting and the film can probably be found in the archives of AP.

Ed Vankan had been covering the situation in the Congo at the time of Belgium’s formal withdrawal as a colonial power in 1960.  He was then posted to Saigon at a time when the United States became involved in Vietnam.   At that time, he travelled into Laos.  To see his essay on the subject click here.

Later still he worked in Vietnam and Pakistan before retiring as a cameraman in 1972.

Main photo by: David Hume Kennerly.

© Terence Gallacher and terencegallacher.com, 2013.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Terence Gallacher and terencegallacher.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

For more articles in the Cameraman tales series click here.

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