The father of Vincent Kompany, the captain of Manchester City and a star of the Belgian national football team, has been elected as Belgium’s first black mayor, in what has been described as a “historic” moment for the country.
The election of Pierre Kompany, 71, a mechanical engineer born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as the country’s first sub-Saharan-born bourgmestre was celebrated by his son in a video message in which he spoke three languages.
Kompany fils, 32, who was born in the Brussels suburb of Uccle, and his younger brother, François, who is also a professional footballer in the Belgian leagues, spoke of their pride in French, Dutch and English in the clip. “Just for the guys abroad: he is the first black mayor in Brussels,” he said. “It has never happened before. It’s historic. We are all happy. Congratulations to my dad.”
The footballer added in a short written statement: “History! We are so proud of you dad. Come from DR Congo as a refugee in 1975. Now you have won the trust of your commune by becoming the first black mayor elected in Belgium! It was long but it is progress. Congratulations!”
Racism in Belgium has been the subject of debate in recent months. The newspaper Le Soir used its entire front page last month to call for an end to bigotry after the country’s only black presenter on francophone television, Cécile Djunga, gave an emotional account of her first year as the main weather presenter on the public service broadcaster RTBF.
“If you want a good laugh, I’ve got a good one for you today,” she had told her followers in a Facebook post viewed over 2m times, before recounting the tale of a woman who had called in days earlier to complain that the presenter was “too black and all people could see were my clothes”.
Pierre Kompany won 28.38% of the vote, up 5.77% from 2012, to become mayor of Ganshoren, a commune in the north-west of Brussels. Following his victory, the new mayor said he would focus on cleaning up the environment in his commune.
He said: “We worked hard during this campaign, but I did not think it would be enough to become mayor. We have addressed people from all races and communities. That is why our score is so high.”
Kompany, who is already a local Councillor and an MP in the Brussels parliament, added that he wanted an “inter-generational community in which young people and the elderly go hand in hand with each other”.
“This mayoralty is proof that people appreciate what I do,” he added.
Philippe Lamberts, the Belgian MEP who leads the Greens in the European parliament said he believed the election was a sign that his country was changing.
“It is symbolically important because it is a fact that Belgium has not done a very good job in integrating people of different origins. It is quite obvious when you look at the UK in comparison.
“But I would also say that the fact that the two leaders of the greens in Brussels are women of Turkish and Moroccan origin is a sign that things are changing.”
In an interview in 2014, Vincent Kompany had spoken of being the target of racist abuse when he first started in the game. “Our team had lads with African, Turkish and Italian origins,” he said. “Whenever we played matches outside Brussels we got dog’s abuse from our opponents’ parents.
“Boys of 11 or 12 were being called ‘dirty niggers’. They also claimed the African lads were older than the ages in their passports, while the referees did nothing. Racism and inequality make me rebel.”
The footballer, who speaks five languages, also told of other difficulties in his childhood. “My parents split up when I was 14,” he said. “I couldn’t understand why and it hurt. Luckily, I knew other kids with divorced parents, so I didn’t feel alone and I took refuge in football. My father lost his job, I was thrown out of school and had to repeat a year and lost my place in the Belgium youth team.”
His father, who was standing on a non-partisan “pro-Ganshoren” ticket, was taking part in local elections in which the main winners were the Greens and the far left and the far right. The Mouvement Réformateur, a party of center-right liberals of which the Belgian prime minister, Charles Michel, is a member, appeared to be a main loser in Brussels ahead of the national elections next May.