Lumumba family to ‘finish mourning’ with tooth return
The family of slain Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba said Friday it hoped to finally turn a grim page of history as former colonial master Belgium prepares to return the last remains of the independence hero.
Brussels is set to host an official ceremony Monday to hand back a tooth — all that is left of the anti-colonialist icon who was murdered by Congolese separatists and Belgian mercenaries in 1961.
At a press conference in the Belgian capital, Lumumba’s son Roland said his family could finally “finish their mourning.”
“I can’t say it’s a feeling of joy, but it’s positive for us that we can bury our loved one,” he said.
“His soul will be able to rest in peace. It’s important for us.”
A fiery critic of Belgium’s rapacious rule, Lumumba became his country’s first prime minister after it gained 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 never found.
But the tooth was kept as a trophy by one of his killers, a Belgian police officer.
– Belgian investigation –
The tooth was seized by Belgian authorities from the daughter of the policeman, Gerard Soete, after Lumumba’s family filed a complaint in 2016.
The chief of Belgium’s federal prosecutors will formally hand it over to the family in a casket on Monday at a ceremony attended by the prime ministers of Belgium and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Lumumba’s murder — and the brutal history of Belgian control of the Congo — have been enduring sources of pain between the two countries.
Lumumba’s children will be received by King Philippe, who this month travelled to DR Congo to expressed his “deepest regrets” over the colonial past.
Historians say that millions of people were killed, mutilated or died of disease as they were forced to collect rubber under his rule. The land was also pillaged for its mineral wealth, timber and ivory.
Roland Lumumba refused to join those who had criticised the monarch for not apologising fully for the past suffering inflicted on Congolese.
“We are not going to remain resentful if the other side is holding out its hand to us,” he said.
He said he hoped to see “a new era” in relations that would help “build the future together.”
– Investigation –
Lumumba echoed his father’s famous speech in front of then Belgian king Baudouin at Congo’s independence ceremony.
“His fight was to get out of servitude while remaining with the Belgians as equals,” he said.
Lumumba’s older son Francois filed a complaint in Belgium in 2011, pointing the finger of responsibility for his father’s killing at a dozen Belgian officials and diplomats.
The investigation for “war crimes” is still ongoing but only two of the targeted officials are still alive.
“We hope that there will be a result before they die,” said Roland Lumumba.
On the political side, a Belgian parliamentary commission of enquiry in 2000-2001 concluded that Belgium had “moral responsibility” for the assassination. In 2002, the government presented the country’s “apologies.” AFP