Lumumba: emotion and “apologies” in Brussels for the delivery of a “relic” of the Congolese hero
Repeated “apologies” and “finally” a coffin, 61 years after the assassination: Belgium returned Monday to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), during an emotional ceremony, a tooth of the Congolese hero Patrice Lumumba whose remains will join a memorial in his name in Kinshasa.
This restitution opens a new page in the relationship between the DRC and its former colonial power, whose assassination in 1961 constitutes one of the darkest episodes.
“Monday June 20, 2022 enters the annals of our common history, the return of Patrice Emery Lumumba allows the DRC to recover one of the essential links of its national memory fragmented by the tragedy of his disappearance”, affirmed the Congolese Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde during the ceremony in Brussels.
The tooth had been seized by the courts in 2016 from the daughter of a Belgian police officer who participated in the disappearance of the body, after the assassination of January 17, 1961.
Contained in a box, it was placed in a coffin which was handed over to the Congolese authorities in the presence of François, Juliana and Roland Lumumba, the children of the assassinated leader, and their families.
“Father, we mourned your disappearance without having made a funeral oration (…) our duty as a descendant was to (you) offer a dignified burial”, declared Juliana, with tears in her eyes.
Highlighting the gray areas that still surround the assassination, she recalled having demanded in 2020, in a letter to the King of the Belgians Philippe, the return of the tooth having the value of a “relic” in the eyes of the Congolese, returned by the prosecutor Federal Frédéric Van Leeuw.
In a speech broadcast live on television, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo renewed the “apologies” already formulated by the Belgian government in 2002 for its “moral responsibility” in this disappearance.
First Prime Minister of the former Belgian Congo which became independent on June 30, 1960 (ex-Zaire, now the DRC), Patrice Lumumba was overthrown in mid-September 1960 by a coup d’etat.
He was executed on January 17, 1961 with two brothers in arms, Maurice Mpolo and Joseph Okito, by separatists from the Katanga region (south), with the support of Belgian mercenaries. His body, dissolved in acid, was never found.
It took several decades to discover that human remains had been kept in Belgium, when the Belgian policeman Gérard Soete who participated in the disappearance broke the secret and boasted about it in the media.
Returning to the conditions of this “terrible” assassination, in a secessionist Katanga refusing to recognize the new independent power, Alexander De Croo pointed the finger at Belgian officials who at the time “chose not to see”, “not to not act”.
– “Deliberate lies” –
A parliamentary commission of inquiry in 2000-2001, he recalled, “concluded that the Belgian government had manifestly disregarded the physical integrity of Patrice Lumumba and that after his assassination, this same government deliberately spread lies about the circumstances of his death”.
“Several ministers of the Belgian government at the time therefore bear moral responsibility for the circumstances which led to this murder. It is a painful and unpleasant truth. But it must be said,” continued the Flemish liberal leader. , castigating an “indefensible”, “odious” act.
The coffin covered with the Congolese flag was to join the DRC embassy in Brussels at midday.
He must leave Tuesday evening for Kinshasa where the Congolese government is in the process of completing the construction of a “Patrice Lumumba Memorial” on a main axis where a statue of the national hero already stands.
A burial ceremony is to be held there on June 30, the anniversary of independence. Throughout the previous week, the coffin will stop at emblematic places of its personal and political journey.
Reflection on the colonial past has suddenly accelerated in Belgium in 2020, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.
After angry demonstrations by Afro-descendants, and the unbolting of statues of Leopold II by several municipalities, Parliament has set up a new commission to “shed light” on this past.
It was also that year that King Philip expressed his “deepest regrets” for the “wounds” of the colonial period. A remark repeated at the beginning of June during his first trip to the DRC.