The Only Remain of Lumumba Finally Returned, 61 years after His Assassination

Patrice_Lumumba_official_portrait
Patrice Lumumba

In 2020, Patrice Lumumba’s Children asked the Belgian King Philip for their Father’s Remains in an open letter. Today, Lumumba‘s golden tooth has been returned to his family and country 61 years after his assassination. For the history, Patrice Lumumba was the prime minister of Congo in 1960, and was assassinated by a coalition led by Belgium, and the US in 1961. At the time of his assassination, it was decided that no trace would be left of his body; thus Belgian officer Gerard Soete and his team dug up and, with a saw dismembered the corpse of Lumumba and his comrades Joseph Okito and Maurice Mpolo, and dissolved them in sulfuric acid while the bones were ground and scattered. We know this from a documentary which aired in 2000 where Soete showed two teeth which he said had belonged to Lumumba. He had taken Lumumba’s teeth as souvenir.  In 2016, Ludo De Witte, author of the book “The assassination of Lumumba,” lodged a legal complaint against Soete’s daughter after she showed a gold tooth, which she said had belonged to Lumumba, during an interview with a newspaper. De Witte’s work has been essential in shattering the official Belgian government silence regarding the assassination of Lumumba.

I cannot imagine what Lumumba’s children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren and all children of mother Congo must feel… it is so painful! It is like the beginning of some closure for the family. Is what was done to Lumumba not considered a crime against humanity? Is returning Lumumba’s tooth supposed to be enough?

Below are some excerpts from the BBC article, “Patrice Lumumba: Why Belgium is returning a Congolese hero’s golden tooth.”

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DRC_Lumumba_Children_tooth returned 20220620
Lumumba’s Children during the return of his tooth in Belgium (Source: TheBusinessExecutive.net)

A gold-crowned tooth is all that remains of assassinated Congolese independence hero Patrice Lumumba.

Shot dead by a firing squad in 1961 with the tacit backing of former colonial power Belgium, his body was then buried in a shallow grave, dug up, transported 200 km (125 miles), interred again, exhumed and then hacked to pieces and finally dissolved in acid.

The Belgian police commissioner, Gerard Soete, who oversaw and participated in the destruction of the remains took the tooth, he later admitted.

He also talked about a second tooth and two of the corpse’s fingers, but these have not been found.

The tooth has now been returned to the family at a ceremony in Brussels.

Soete’s impulse to pocket the body parts echoed the behaviour of European colonial officials down the decades who took remains back home as macabre mementoes.

For Lumumba’s daughter, Juliana, the question is whether the perpetrators were human. What amount of hatred must you have to do that?” she asks.

This is a reminder of what happened with the Nazis, taking pieces of people – and that’s a crime against humanity,” she told the BBC.

Nevertheless, there seemed to be a personal element to the way Lumumba was vilified and pursued. The total destruction of the body, as well as a way to get rid of the evidence, seems like an effort to obliterate Lumumba from the memory. There would be no memorial, making it almost possible to deny that he existed at all. It was not enough just to bury him.

But he is still remembered.

[Juliana Lumumba] recognises that her father “belongs to the country, because he died for Congo… and for his own values and convictions of the dignity of the African person.

She acknowledges that the handing over of the tooth in Belgium and bringing it back to the Democratic Republic of Congo is symbolic “because what remains is not really enough. But he has to come back to his country where his blood was shed.”

The tooth will be taken around the vast country before being buried in the capital.

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