Belgium hands over DR Congo independence hero’s tooth to family

Patrice Lumumba was the first democratically elected prime minister of the DRC after independence from Belgium in 1960.

Late former Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba
Late former Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba (1925 - 1961) at John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York, 2nd August 1960 [File: Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty Images]

Belgian authorities have handed over a tooth, the only known remains of the murdered Congolese independence hero Patrice Lumumba, to his family during a ceremony in Brussels.

Lumumba became the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) first democratically elected prime minister after independence from Belgium in 1960.

Chief prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw gave his relatives a small, bright blue box containing the tooth in a televised ceremony at Egmont Palace in central Brussels on Monday. He said legal action they had taken to receive the relic had delivered “justice”.

“There’s a feeling of satisfaction after several years,” one of his sons Roland Lumumba told state broadcaster RTBF before the ceremony.

The tooth is to be placed in a casket and flown to the DRC.

While in office, the eloquent Lumumba alarmed the West with overtures to Moscow at the height of the Cold War. He also angered Belgium with a speech criticising its years of colonisation of the African country.

By some estimates, killings, famine and disease killed up to 10 million Congolese during the first 23 years of Belgium’s rule from 1885 to 1960, when King Leopold II ruled the Congo Free State as a personal fiefdom. Villages that missed rubber collection quotas were notoriously made to provide severed hands instead.

While Belgium’s King Phillipe, who recently visited the country, has admitted that Belgian colonial rule was unjustifiable and racist, he stopped short of an apology.

Lumumba’s government lasted just three months before he was overthrown and assassinated by a firing squad, aged only 35. His supporters and some historians accuse the CIA of having ordered his killing.

According to numerous reports, his body was dug up, dismembered and dissolved in acid by Belgian officers and never found. One of them pocketed a tooth as a “trophy”.

In 2016, Belgian authorities seized the tooth from the daughter of the policeman, Gerard Soete, after Lumumba’s family filed a complaint.

The DRC is set to hold three days of “national mourning” from 27 to 30 June – its 62nd anniversary of independence – to mark the burial ceremony in Kinshasa of the remains.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies