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Monday, June 18, 2012

Leopoldville 1913 - SYNKIN Begins Operations

As Kinshasa began to supplant Leopoldville as the economic center of the future capital, local authorities developed plans to relocate the port upstream to Kinshasa (See Mar. 13, 2011).  A new company, the Syndicat d’Etudes et d’Entreprises au Congo, known as Synkin, was established in February 1913 in hopes of securing the contract to construct the port.  The Ministry of Colonies decided not to go forward with the port project at that time, so Synkin opted to extend its reach into the construction industry; selling construction materials, equipment and tools of all kinds, establishing a sawmill and carpentry shop, operating a shipyard, and securing a forest concession at Lukolela some 200 kilometers up the Congo River to supply its operations in the city.
The SYNKIN store viewd from Ave. Cerckel (Ave. de la Paix)

Synkin established its offices at the corner of Ave. Beernaert (Equateur) and Cerckel (Paix) in a Romanesque arcaded building that wrapped around the street corner with a curious tower structure in the center. An early director was Joseph Rhodius, a former rail superintendent on the Matadi-Leopolville line, who joined the firm after building the Hotel A.B.C. in 1914 (See Mar. 27, 2011).  Under his direction Synkin built many houses in the town as well as the offices of the Intertropical-Comfina trading firm.  After World War I, Rhodius left Synkin to found the Texaf textile factory and build the Sanga hydro-power station that would later become part of today’s SNEL (Jan. 9, 2011). He was succeeded at Synkin by Leon Biron who played an important role in municipal affairs and directed the company’s activities for 25 years, before retiring as Director General in 1946. 
The SYNKIN store from Ave. Cerckel (R) and Beernaert (L)

In 1920 Synkin carried out a feasibility study to provide potable water to the town.  At this point, the ABC Hotel was sending a truck to Leopoldville every day to bring water in dame-jeanne jugs.  By 1923, the water plant was providing 800 cubic meters of treated water daily, drawn from the Congo River.

The water tower on Ave. VanGele (Lukusa) - House in foreground approximate location of Citibank today

In October 1923, a journalist for the Nation Belge, Roger de Chatelux – known by his nom de plume Chalux -- visited Kinshasa.  Taking into account the decision the previous year to name Kinshasa as the future capital (See Sep. 12, 2011), Chalux was impressed by the significant construction activity under way in Kinshasa and adjacent Kalina.  He found Synkin to be in the middle of it all.  When he got off the train from Matadi, he had to detour around an “army” of Congolese placing the mauve cobble stones which can still be found in parts of downtown.  Chalux noted that Synkin was involved in water supply, ship building, sale of construction materials, construction of most housing in Leopoldville and Kinshasa, and a range of public works projects.
SYNKIN store looking down Ave. Cerckel -- Note Texaco gas pump on corner
When Oscar Chinn first arrived in Kinshasa in 1930, he initially began his ship-building operation at the Synkin yard in Ndolo (See.Oct. 31, 2011).  Synkin was also the representative of Texaco, with a gas pump on the corner of Aves. Beernaert and Cerckel.
SYNKIN -- 1930s
After WWII, Otraco acquired the Synkin shipyard at Ndolo in order to expand its shipyard from 2.6 hectares to 10 ha and gain 350 meters of river frontage.  In the 1950s, Synkin rebuilt its store on Ave. Cerckel with a modern brick façade not often seen in commercial structures in Leopoldville.
The SYNKIN store prior to reconstruction
The SYNKIN store undergoing reconstruction
The completed SYNKIN store
The new store viewed from Ave. Cerckel
The old store from Ave. de la Paix
When foreign businesses were nationalized under Mobutu’s Zairianization program in 1973, Synkin became Zamat.  Its first Congolese Director General was Jean Bolikango (See Sep. 30, 2011), a contender for Prime Minister in 1960 and later Minister of Information.  Like many Zairianized businesses, when Mobutu offered the firms back to the original owners in 1976, there were no takers.  Most recently, the building housed a furniture store which did a slow business selling imported Italian furniture.
The SYNKIN store in 2004
Sources:
·         Chalux, 1925. Un an au Congo Belge. Librairie Albert Dewitt.
·         Lederer, 1965. Histoire de la Navigation au Congo, Musée Royale de l’Afrique Centrale.
·         Moulaert, Georges. 1948. Souvenirs d’Afrique 1902-1912. Eds. C. Dessart.
 

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