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Patrice Lumumba: DR Congo buries tooth of independence hero

By Damian Zane | BBC News |

A ceremony is being held in the Democratic Republic of Congo to bury the gold-crowned tooth of independence hero Patrice Lumumba more than 60 years after he was assassinated.

It is the only part of his body that exists after his remains were dissolved in acid.

The Belgian policeman who oversaw the disposal took the tooth as a trophy.

It was returned to the family last week and has toured several parts of DR Congo in a coffin.

People have been able to pay their respects ahead of the funeral that is taking place in the capital, Kinshasa.

President Félix Tshisekedi, Lumumba’s family and other dignitaries are at the service which is taking place before the coffin is transferred to a specially built mausoleum.

Lumumba was the country’s first prime minister and one of the leaders of the struggle for independence. He was also seen as one of the most prominent voices in Africa’s anti-colonial movement.

Thursday marks 62 years since the former colonial power Belgium relinquished control of the vast country.

But it viewed Lumumba as a barrier to its efforts to maintain influence as well as hold on to important economic interests.

In a famous speech on independence day in 1960, in front of Belgian dignitaries including King Baudouin, Lumumba, aged 34, castigated Belgium saying that the Congolese had been held in “humiliating slavery”.

The Belgians were stunned as a black African had never dared speak like this in front of Europeans.

Lumumba was toppled as prime minister just over two months later. Then in January 1961, with the tacit backing of Belgium, he was shot by a firing squad, along with two allies.

Belgian policeman Gerard Soete kept the tooth in a padded box in his home in Belgium. ( Picture via JELLE VERMEERSCH )
Belgian policeman Gerard Soete kept the tooth in a padded box in his home in Belgium. ( Picture via JELLE VERMEERSCH )

A Belgian policeman, Gerard Soete, was given the job of getting rid of the evidence. It was during that process that he pocketed the tooth and took it back with him to Belgium.

It was decades later that he revealed that he still had the tooth and only two years ago that Belgium agreed that it should be returned to the family.

The Covid pandemic delayed the process but last week it was handed over in Brussels.

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