Members of Patrice Lumumba’s family have received a tooth, the only known relic of the killed Congolese independence hero from Belgium.
The relic was returned after Belgium’s King Philippe voiced his “deepest sorrow” for Belgium’s crimes in Congo, its former African colony.
During a private ceremony at Egmont Palace in central Brussels on Monday, a Belgian official presented the gold-capped tooth, which was kept in a blue box, to members of Lumumba’s family.
“It isn’t normal that Belgians held on to the remains of one of the founding fathers of the Congolese nation for six decades,” Alexander De Croo, Belgian Prime Minister, said in a speech.
Lumumba was the first democratically elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after the country gained independence from Belgium in 1960, but his overtures to Moscow during the Cold War alarmed the West.
After only three months in power, his government was deposed, and he was killed by firing squad in 1961. To avoid any burial becoming a pilgrimage site, Lumumba’s remains were dissected and dissolved with acid. After observing the body’s destruction, the tooth was taken by the daughter of a Belgian police commissioner. Belgian authorities seized it decades later.
Lumumba’s death was probed and deemed to be “morally accountable” to Belgium by a Belgian parliamentary investigation in 2002.
Some historians and his allies have accused the CIA of ordering the assassination. Others claimed that when he was arrested and imprisoned, Western powers neglected to intervene.
Juliana Lumumba, Lumumba’s daughter, wrote to Belgium’s monarch in 2020, requesting that her father’s remains be returned. She agreed with Congolese Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde, who claimed the relic’s repatriation had been overdue for a long time.
“Father, our hearts bled for 61 years,” she said during the official ceremony, speaking next to a coffin with a picture of her late father on top of it. “We, your children, your grandchildren, and your great-grandchildren – but also Congo, Africa, and the world – we mourned your death without a eulogy.”
She added that there was still a lot unknown about his final hours and all they knew was that he was convicted and was unable to defend himself.