Belgium returns Lumumba’s tooth to his family

Belgium handed over the last remains of slain Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba – a tooth – to his family on Monday, turning the page on a dark chapter in its colonial past.

Chief prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw gave relatives a small, bright blue box containing the tooth in a televised ceremony, and said the legal action they had taken to receive the relic had done “justice”.

The tooth was placed in a coffin which was later draped in the flag of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which celebrates Lumumba, who was assassinated by Belgian separatists and mercenaries in 1961, as an anti-colonial hero.

Lumumba’s assassination – and the brutal history of Belgian control of the Congo – have been enduring sources of pain between the two countries.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo reiterated that his country’s authorities bore “moral responsibility” for the murder.

“I would like, in the presence of his family, to apologize in turn for the Belgian government,” he said.

“A man was assassinated for his political beliefs, his words, his ideals.”

Lumumba’s son, François, told Belgian television channel RTBF that his relatives had been waiting “over 60 years” for the event.

“I think it will bring comfort to the family and to the Congolese people,” he said.

“We are opening a new page in history.”

An outspoken critic of Belgium’s rapacious regime, Lumumba became his country’s first prime minister after independence in 1960.

But he fell out with the former colonial power and the United States and was ousted in a coup a few months after taking office.

He was executed on January 17, 1961, aged just 35, in the southern region of Katanga, with the support of Belgian mercenaries.

His body was dissolved in acid and was never found.

But the tooth was kept as a trophy by one of the interested parties, a Belgian policeman.

The tooth was seized by Belgian authorities in 2016 from the police officer’s daughter, Gérard Soete, after Lumumba’s family filed a complaint.

“National mourning”

The coffin containing the tooth should be brought back to the DRC where it will be officially buried at a memorial site.

The country is due to hold three days of “national mourning” from June 27-30 – its 62nd anniversary of independence – to mark the burial ceremony.

Lumumba’s eldest son, François, filed a lawsuit in Belgium in 2011, pointing the finger at responsibility for his father’s murder against a dozen Belgian officials and diplomats.

The investigation for “war crimes” is still ongoing but only two of the officials targeted are still alive.

A Belgian parliamentary commission of inquiry in 2001 concluded that Belgium had a “moral responsibility” in the assassination and the government issued the country’s “apology” a year later.

De Croo said Belgian officials “chose not to see, chose not to act” to stop the killing, even though they did not directly want it to happen.

Lumumba’s children were also received on Monday by Belgium’s King Philippe, who traveled to DR Congo this month to express his “deepest regrets” over the colonial past.

Historians say millions of people were killed, maimed or died of disease while forced to collect rubber under Belgian rule. The land was also plundered for its mineral wealth, timber and ivory.

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Post expires at 8:24pm on Thursday June 30th, 2022