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DRC: Lumumba’s remains restitution ceremony postponed to June

By Jeune Afrique

Posted on January 7, 2022 08:43

Firefox_Screenshot_2022-01-06T16-27-24.817Z Patrice Lumumba, brought back to Leopoldville, 2 December 1960 © Rue des Archives
Patrice Lumumba, brought back to Leopoldville, 2 December 1960 © Rue des Archives

On 17 January, Belgium was due to officially return a tooth from DRC’s former Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba to his relatives. It had had been taken from his body following his assassination in 1961. The Congolese presidency says the ceremony has been postponed due to Covid-19 restrictions.

On 5 January, the Congolese presidency announced that Belgium’s restitution ceremony of a ‘relic’ belonging to Lumumba had been postponed to June 2022.

Lumumba, a hero of independence, became the DRC’s first head of government in June 1960, but was overthrown in a coup a few months later. Separatists from the Katanga region executed him on 17 January 1961, with the support of mercenaries from the former Belgian colonial power.

Dissolved in acid

A Belgian police commissioner, Gérard Soete, claimed to have taken a tooth from Lumumba’s body when they were disposing of it. In 2000, he described cutting up and dissolving the bodies of Lumumba and two people close to him – Joseph Okito and Maurice Mpolo, who were killed at the same time – in acid. In a documentary broadcast on the German channel ARD that same year, Soete showed the tooth that he had kept.

In September 2020, the Belgian justice system agreed to return the tooth, which had been seized from Soete’s daughter, to Lumumba’s family. In 2001, at the end of a parliamentary commission of enquiry, Belgium acknowledged its ‘moral responsibility’ in Lumumba’s death.

Repatriation postponed

Belgium was due to hand over the tooth on 21 June 2021, but the ceremony and accompanying tributes were postponed. “The ceremony of restitution and repatriation of the remains of former Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba has been postponed to June, close to the celebrations of the DRC’s independence on 30 June,” said an adviser to President Tshisekedi.

“It has been postponed for several reasons. The main reason is the restrictions in place to fight against the spread of Covid-19,” he said, promising “an official communication in the coming hours.” It has now been set for 17 January 2022, the 61st anniversary of Lumumba’s death.

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