Belgian authorities have returned a tooth of the murdered Congolese independence hero Patrice Lumumba to his children, in a new move towards recognition of atrocities that accompanied the country’s brutal exploitation of the former colony.
The relic is all that remains of Lumumba, the first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), under its earlier name the Republic of Congo, and an icon of the struggle against colonialism in Africa, who was murdered by separatists and Belgian mercenaries in 1961. His killers dissolved his remains in acid, though some kept his teeth as macabre mementoes.
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, as a first step before repatriation. Lumumba’s son Roland said last week that the return of the tooth meant his family would be able to “finish their mourning”.By returning the tooth, Belgium is hoping to draw a line under one of the most brutal and shameful episodes in the country’s bloody exploitation of central Africa.
Alexander de Croo, the Belgian prime minister, recognised its “moral responsibility” for Lumumba’s killing. “This is a painful and disagreeable truth, but must be spoken,” De Croo said. “A man was murdered for his political convictions, his words, his ideals.”
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