Belgian authorities have returned a tooth of the Congolese independence hero Patrice Lumumba to his family, 61 years after he was murdered by agents of the former colonial power.
The tooth is all that remains of Mr Lumumba, the first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and a fiery revolutionary who led his country’s campaign for independence from Belgium.
He was an icon of the struggle against colonialism in Africa, but was murdered by separatists and Belgian mercenaries in 1961. His killers dissolved his remains in acid, though some kept his teeth as macabre mementoes.
A tooth was retrieved from a Belgian police commissioner, Gerard Soete, who in 2000 confessed to being a party to Mr Lumumba’s murder.
According to The UK Guardian, the gold-capped tooth was handed in a light blue case to a group of family members at the Egmont Palace in Brussels on Monday morning.
It was placed in a casket that will be taken to the embassy of the DRC.
Mr Lumumba’s son, Roland Lumumba, said last week that the return of the tooth meant his family would be able to “finish their mourning”.
According to Alexander de Croo, Belgian prime minister, “this is a painful and disagreeable truth, but must be spoken.”
“A man was murdered for his political convictions, his words, his ideals,” he added.
Additionally, King Philippe of Belgium had earlier this month made his first visit to the DRC, where he expressed “deepest regrets for the wounds of the past”, describing the Belgian rule as a “regime …. of unequal relations, unjustifiable in itself, marked by paternalism, discrimination and racism” that “led to violent acts and humiliations”.
The government of the DRC has declared three days of official mourning before the official burial of the tooth in Kinshasa at the end of this month.
As many as 10 million people died from starvation and disease during the first 23 years of Belgium’s rule from 1885, when King Leopold II ruled the Congo Free State as a personal fiefdom.
Chiamaka Okafor is a reporter at Premium Times in partnership with Report for the World, which matches local newsrooms with talented emerging journalists to report on under-covered issues around the globe.”
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