16 Tons
17 Tons: Memory as practice
17 Tons: Memory as practice
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Waterschei Planning Archive
Woods, Paolo
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Zwartberg drama
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Zwartberg drama

A commotion began brewing with the announcement that the Zwartberg mine in Genk would be closing. A strike started spontaneously underground when the first of the workers received their termination notices. Aboveground, incensed workers destroyed whatever came across their path, and on January 31, 1966, the miners headed for Waterschei and Winterslag to solicit their colleagues’ solidarity. 

The threat of a widespread strike was met by intense repression from the Gendarmerie: two people were killed and seven were seriously injured. Twenty years later, Mr. Châtel, first President of the Court of Cassation, forwarded the Gendarmerie’s files on the strike to Lieutenant General De Vos, Inspector General of the Gendarmerie.

The archives begin with a historical note and a chronological sequence of the facts reported by the Gendarmerie. This introduction was drafted by Mr. Châtel, requested by the former Minister of the Interior Alfons Vranckx (1965–1966) under whom he was the deputy chief. He had followed the events in Genk closely at that time. The dossier contains administrative records and a collection of confidential documents, reports on extraordinary events, telex messages, staff messages and copies of brochures distributed at many demonstrations.

The Gendarmerie’s response to the situation was not justified anywhere in these files, nor was the public outcry at their actions ever included in the Gendarmerie’s reports or communications. These files, which contain a unilateral view of the past, have never before been made public. Their disclosure will now open the historical record to revision by testimony from local witnesses to the events. JH