Sunday, May 30, 2021

Leopoldville 1929 – Funa Club Founded

I learned to swim at the Mampeza Pool in Leopoldville Ouest, as Commune de Ngaliema was known in the mid-1950s. The pool was built in the valley of the Mampeza river opposite Camp Reisdorf (now Camp Loano), the Force Publique Logistics base. Five or six years old, I stood at the end of the low board, looking down at the black water (the pool was a concrete tank without tiles) as my father patiently treaded water below and urged me to jump in. I finally took the plunge and began a splashy dog paddle as Dad stayed at my side.
The Mampeza swimming pool 1950s (Smithsonian Institution)
The Mampeza pool on right (

I have not yet been able to confirm the origins of the Mampeza pool. It might have been built by the Provincial Government, which installed a small pump on the river in 1920 to provide water for Old Leopoldville, or else the Chanic shipyards, which took over the original river port at the mouth of the Mampeza in 1928. In July 1932, Club de la Mampeza organized a swimming match as part of the joint Belgian and French National Day observances.
A party at the Mampeza (author coll.)

There was another swimming pool 15 kilometers across town on the Funa River at the south side of Ndolo Airport (Apr. 27, 2013). As early as 1923, a local entrepreneur opened a bar on a bend of the river with a sandy bottom he called Funa Park, a nod to Coney Island’s “Luna Park”. In 1929, four Belgian residents decided to improve upon the swimming hole by damming the stream, first with sand bags, and later concrete. In 1931, the Funa Club was founded. The Club organized a fair in April 1934, serenaded by the New Best Fellows orchestra. The following month, Mampeza organized a match with the Funa swim team and invited the Caimans from Brazzaville to join. The new Governor General, Pierre Ryckmans, an avid swimmer, preferred the Mampeza, but accepted the Honorary Presidency of the Funa Club for protocol reasons. There were rumors in 1935 that a new municipal pool would be built near the Diables Rouge football pitch (in the vicinity of contemporary Notre Dame de Fatima Church), as both Mampeza and Funa pools were considered far from the colonial administrative district of Kalina and were also restricted to members. Nothing further came of this initiative.
The Funa Club in 1933 (author coll.)

These two pools were restricted to membership by the White community. Access to swimming opportunity for Congolese was a priority for the Catholic missionaries and in May 1934, Father Raphael de la Kethulle (Tata Rafael) of the Scheut mission obtained use of a hectare along the Funa river upstream from the Funa Club to create a swimming pool for the students of St. Pierre school and others of the cité. Throughout the 1930s, both Mampeza and Funa swim clubs hosted matches with each other and responded to invitations from the Caimans across the river. Mampeza completed a major makeover in August 1936, expanding to a 10 x 45 metre pool, with two boards, a water filtration system and a generator to provide electricity. In a major event in November 1936, Mampeza hosted an evening gala. Colectric provided lights, the Ciné Palace set up the sound, the Force Publique band entertained the participants, topped off with a fashion show parade. The Caimans lost a water polo match to Mampeza 5 to 2. Vice Governor Ermens, District Commissioner Morel and Papal Nuncio Reggio attended.
The Mampeza in the 1940s (author coll.)

On the eve of World War II, Tata Raphael, who completed Reine Astrid Stadium in 1937, began thinking about developing a major sports complex for Congolese residents of the city. Plans were drawn up in 1941 by Public Works architect E. Popijn, who designed College Albert (cite) and the Medical Assistants School (Feb. 27, 2020).
Architect's drawings for Parc des Sports Gen. Ermens (

The Funa Club celebrated its 10th anniversary in October 1941 by building a new dam to supply water and refurbishing the concrete and tile. During World War Two the United States opened an office of the Board of Economic Warfare in Leopoldville to coordinate delivery of Congo’s strategic resources to the US war effort (May 23, 2011). A member of the mission, John Canaday, who later wrote detective novels under the pseudonym of Matthew Head, recalled, 

 “If I had a favorite spot in Leopoldville, the Funa was it. It was a big pool, wide open to the sky, set out in the middle of great empty fields beyond the edge of town. As a pool there wasn’t anything exceptional about it; it was just the usual concrete basin, with concrete pavement along the banks, and along one side this pavement was widened into a terrace to accommodate a scattering of tables under bright beach umbrellas”. (Head, 1950:82)

The Art Deco facade of the Funa Club in the 1940s (author coll.)

In January 1942, the colonial government authorized the Scheut Mission to expand its site on the Funa to 75 hectares. But only five months later, rescinded its grant to allow for the extension of the Ndolo Airport runway (Apr. 27, 2013). At the end of the year, the government promised to return the site to the Catholics if there were no further needs for airport expansion. Finally, in June 1943, the Scheut Mission was granted 12 hectares for a sports complex. Construction began that year under Marcel Hentenryck, who also designed the art deco Public Market that year. Parc Sports Ermens was inaugurated in April 1946. The complex featured a large pool in addition to football and tennis facilities.

The Parc des Sports Gen. Ermens pool in 1947 (author coll.)

Kids enjoying the pool 1953 (LIFE Magazine, Getty Coll.)

Meanwhile, the Funa Club owners were considering a bid from the city to buy the facility. In December 1944, the Comité Urbain agreed to buy the pool, noting its plans to build a separate pool for Europeans as well as others serving the Congolese community, though there is no evidence this ever happened. The Allied liberation of Belgium was celebrated at the Funa in May 1945, and in December, the acquisition of the pool by the municipality was completed. The local government planned to upgrade the water filtration system. The colonial government also contributed, ceding rights to the 14 hectares where the Funa was located in 1949 and making direct budget allocations during the 1950s. 
During the riots in January 1959, which led to Independence the following year (Jan. 13, 2019), many Europeans were stranded at the Funa club and could not get home because the riot centered on Ave. Prince Baudouin (now Kasavubu), which the main route from the European city to the pool.
Belgian soldiers' weapons stacked up at the Funa, Feb. 1959 (author coll.)

After Independence, things continued much as before notwithstanding the political and social disruption in the city. The club closed for cleaning in mid-November 1960 and reopened the following Saturday with a “Soirée Dansante” for members. Orchestre Pespi-Cola provided entertainment. In April 1961, a US newspaper reported that Europeans flocked to the pool during their lunch hour. Noting that there had been no color bar prior to Independence, Congolese could patronize the club if they paid the $0.60 entrance fee. Suzanne Comhaire-Sylvain, a Haitian anthropologist who researched youth in the city during World War II, returned in 1965 to study the life of women in the capital. She quoted an article in the “Progrès” which stated that whites would vacate the pool when Congolese entered. Going to the Funa was an expensive proposition for most Congolese, Comhaire-Sylvain. noted, describing the habits of a two-income couple for whom a taxi from town and back was Fr. 600, the entrance fee Fr. 100 and a sandwich Fr.150. In a recent article in E-Journal Kinshasa, a Kinois recalled catching the TCL (Oct. 24, 2011) 1-Line bus from Bandalungwa to the Funa with enough money for his entrance fee and a soft drink.
The Funa Club in the late 1950s. The City "modernized" the original Art Deco facade (author coll.)

Entrance to the changing rooms (author coll.)

Many of the American School (TASOK) students started going to the Funa Club on Friday afternoons in the early 1960s. I do not recall tension between white and black pool users. The large pool with its blue tiles, diving boards and water slide was a great improvement over the Mampeza. The “Mamp” faded from memory.
The Funa Club in 1967 (Elisofon Collection, Smithsonian Institution)

Body builders show their stuff (photo Jean Depara,

The Funa continued to operate in the 1970s. Entrance fees were 70 makuta ($1.40). Former Commissaire Regional (Governor) Sakombi Inongo claims he privatized the pool during his tenure in 1975-76. But by the 1980s it was in decline. Kinshasa’s budget for 1986 included plans to rehabilitate the Funa Club, as well as the MPR complex at Nsele, which also boasted an Olympic size pool (June 4, 2017). But that did not happen and during the 1992 Conference Nationale Souveraine sessions assessing the failures of the Mobutu regime, the Social and Cultural Commission deplored the abandonment of the Funa Club. During an assignment in Kinshasa in the early 2000s, I dropped a colleague off on Ave. Kabasele Joseph near the end of the Ndolo Airport runway. I had an eerie feeling like “déjà vu”, recognizing the side lane where we had stopped as the entrance to the Funa Club. But it was now built up all around with houses within cement block compounds.
The Funa Club site

The last record I can find for the Mampeza was for a Ball Pelote match in 1956, about the time I started swimming there. At the end of a stay in Kinshasa in 2006, I went looking for the Mampeza. I found a small path between the walls off Ave. Ngumi where Hotel Pyramid is located. On the other side was the overgrown Mampeza stream and I followed a path along it twenty meters further where the space opened out into a courtyard between houses formed by the old pool. In contemporary Kinshasa, swimmers have to join hotel pools like the Elaeis, the ASK in Ma Campagne or the Shark Club at the Athenée.

The Mampeza pool in 2006 (author coll.)

Mampeza pool in 2006, vestiges of blue paint and hand rails (author coll.)

  • Avenir Colonial Belge, Leopoldville, 1940-43 (multiple issues) 
  •  Comhaire-Sylvain, Suzanne, 1968. Femmes de Kinshasa hier et aujourd'hui, Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG. 
  •  « Courrier d’Afrique », Leopoldville, 1941. (multiple issues) 
  •  « L’Eveil de l’A.E.F. », 1932-36 Brazzaville (multiple issues) 
  •  « Historique du Funa-Club ASBL », 1949. ( 
  •  Head, Matthew, 1950. Congo Venus, New York: Dell Publishing Company, Inc. 
  •  « Jeune, j’ai nagé à Cosbaki, à Funa et à l’Athénée de la Gombe », E-Journal Kinshasa, Oct. 2020. ( 
  •  Lelo Nzuzi, Francis, 2011. Kinshasa Planification & Aménagement, l’Harmattan. 
  • VanderLinden, Jacques, 1994. Pierre Ryckmans 1891-1959: Coloniser dans l'honneur, Bruxelles : De Boeck-Wesamel. 
  • Wauters, Julien, 1926. Le Congo au travail, Maison national d'edition l'Églantine.

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