61 years later... Belgium finally returns Patrice Lumumba's tooth to family
BELGIAN AUTHORITIES have finally returned a tooth belonging to freedom fighter Patrice Lumumba, 61 years after he was murdered.
The tooth is the only remains of the Congolese independence icon after he was executed and had his body dissolved in acid in January 1961, in a plot spearheaded by Belgium, Britain and the United States.
According to reports, a Belgian official gave the gold-capped tooth, which was in a light blue box, to a members of Mr Lumumba’s family in a private ceremony held this morning at the Egmont Palace in Brussels.
The relic was then placed in a casket that will be taken to the embassy of the Democratic Republic of Congo, as the first step before full repatriation.
Belgium’s prime minister Alexander De Croo told Congolese officials and Mr Lumumba’s family that returning the tooth had taken too long.
“It is not normal that Belgium held onto the remains of one of the founding fathers of the Congolese nation for six decades,” said De Croo.
In 1960, Mr Lumumba led Congo, now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), to independence from Belgium and became the country’s first democratically elected prime minister
He also became a hero and the face of the struggle against colonialism in Africa.
The assassination of Lumumba was reportedly organised by Britain’s MI6, according to Lord Lea, who was quoted in the London Review of Books who said that the former security chief Daphne Park told him of Britain’s involvement.
The West was paranoid that Lumumba was going to hand mining contracts to the Soviets. While CIA records exist confirming the involvement of the US in the murder, Britain’s secret service records remain permanently sealed. A UK government source has described suggestions of Britain’s involvement as “speculative.”
The original hand over of the remains was scheduled to take place on 21 June 2021 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the DRC’s independence but were delayed due to Covid-19 cases rising “exponentially”, according to DRC President Tshisekedi. The proposal was then rescheduled for January 2022, but again the pandemic halted the plans.
Mr Lumumba’s children have tirelessly campaigned for the return of their father’s remains.
In 2020, Juliana Lumumba, daughter of the pan-African leader, demanded her father’s tooth be returned to her family and homeland for a proper burial.
In the letter, she wrote: “If anthropologists say that the concern for burial and the funeral ritual are essential human characteristics, each year the DRC, Africa, and the world pay homage to Patrice Emery Lumumba as an unburied hero. The years pass, and our father remains a dead man without a funeral oration, a corpse without bones.
“In our culture like in yours, respect for the human person extends beyond physical death, through the care that is devoted to the bodies of the deceased and the importance attached to funeral ritual, the final farewell.
“But why, after his terrible murder, have Lumumba’s remains been condemned to remain a soul forever wandering, without a grave to shelter his eternal rest?”
Ms Lumumba added: “Throughout our mother’s life, fifty-three years of it wearing mourning clothes, she fought to give a final resting place to her tender husband. On December 23, 2014, she herself left us, a woman broken-hearted, not having been able to fulfil her duty as a widow. The height of our sorrow is that we know that our mother is not resting in peace.
“For my brothers and I, our responsibility as children — our duty as descendants, now that we have ourselves become mother and fathers — is to pay homage to our father, to our progenitor, by offering him a grave worthy of the precious blood that ties us to him, running through our veins.”
“We, the children of Patrice Emery Lumumba, do not want to leave this painful task to our children, who never knew their grandfather,” she added.
The restitution of the relic comes after Belgium’s King Philippe expressed his “deepest regrets” for the past abuses Belgium inflicted on its former African colony.
In 2000, a Belgian police commissioner, Gérard Soete, claimed to have brutally removed the tooth from Mr Lumumba’s body before dissolving it in sulfuric acid.
Soete also described cutting and dissolving the bodies of two of Lumumba’s closest friends, Maurice Mpolo and Joseph Okito, who were killed at the same time as the Congolese hero.
During a documentary shown on German TV channel ARD in 2000, Soete showed the tooth – which he had kept for almost 40 years.
The Belgian justice system announced in September 2020 that they had agreed to return the tooth to Mr Lumumba’s family and it was seized from Soete’s daughter.