THE LAST remains of freedom fighter Patrice Lumumba have finally returned to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The gold-capped tooth is the only remnant of the icon of Congolese independence, who was executed and his body dissolved in acid in January 1961.
His tooth has remained in Belgium ever since, having been kept as a trophy by Gerard Soete, a former Belgian police commissioner.
Last week, the coffin finally landed on DRC soil and was transported by soldiers to Tshumbe in Sankuru province.
The relic was taken to rest in Mr. Lumumba’s native village.
He was then transported to Katanga in the southeast, where he was executed in 1961.
Congolese authorities are now planning an official burial ceremony in Kinshasa on June 30 to commemorate the 61st anniversary of the independence of the DRC.
The hero’s welcome
As the coffin was carried through the central African country, thousands of people took to the streets to pay their respects to their first prime minister.
In Belgium, hundreds of Africans marched in memory of the Congolese hero.
In 1960, Mr. Lumumba led the Congo, now the DRC, to independence from Belgium.
He became the country’s first democratically elected prime minister and the face of the struggle against colonialism in Africa.
Last week it was announced that Belgian authorities had returned the tooth to Mr Lumumba’s family in a private ceremony at Egmont Palace in Brussels.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told Congolese officials and Mr Lumumba’s family that it had taken too long to return the tooth.
“It is not normal that Belgium kept the remains of one of the founding fathers of the Congolese nation for six decades,” said De Croo.
The family’s fight for justice
Mr. Lumumba’s children campaigned tirelessly for the return of their father’s remains.
In 2020, Juliana Lumumba, daughter of the Pan-African leader, demanded that her father’s tooth be returned to her family and homeland for a proper burial.
In the letter, she writes: “In our culture as 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 given to the funeral ritual, the final farewell.
“But why, after his terrible murder, was the remains of Lumumba condemned to remain an ever-wandering soul, without a grave to shelter his eternal rest?”
In 2000, a Belgian police commissioner, Gérard Soete, claimed to have brutally extracted the tooth from Mr Lumumba’s body before dissolving it in sulfuric acid.
During a documentary broadcast on a German television channel ARD in 2000, Soete showed the tooth – which he had kept as a trophy for almost 40 years.
Belgian justice announced in September 2020 that the tooth would return to Mr. Lumumba’s family after being seized from Soete’s daughter.
The initial handover was scheduled to take place on June 21, 2021, to commemorate the 60e anniversary of the independence of the DRC but were delayed due to the pandemic, says the Africa Report.