BRUSSELS ( Associated Press) – Belgian authorities returned a gold crown belonging to slain Congolese independence hero Patrice Lumumba on Monday, as the former colonial power confronts its bloody past and seeks reconciliation.
After the assassination in 1961, Lumba’s corpse was dismembered and dissolved with acid in an apparent attempt to prevent any graves from becoming places of pilgrimage. Belgian authorities confiscated the tooth in 2016 from the daughter of a Belgian police commissioner who revealed she had taken it after overseeing the destruction of Lumumba’s body.
The return of the relic comes as Belgium’s King Philippe earlier this month expressed “deep regret” for his country’s abuse of his former African colony of Congo, which is 75 times the size of Belgium.
After a private ceremony in the presence of Lumumba’s relatives, during which the federal prosecutor handed over the tainted case, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Cru told Congolese officials and Lumumba’s family that restoration was too late.
“It is not normal for Belgium to keep the remains of one of the founding fathers of the Congo nation for six decades,” said de Cru, who apologized for his country’s role in the assassination.
Congolese Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Luconde indicated that the return of the relic would be essential to his country’s national memory.
Two years ago, the federal prosecutor’s office said there was no absolute certainty that the tooth returned was that of Lumumba, as it was not possible to perform a DNA test.
Lumumba’s daughter Juliana agreed with De Cru that the delivery was too late.
“Dad, our hearts bled for 61 years,” he said during the official ceremony. “We, his children, his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren – but also Congo, Africa and the world – mourn his death without praise.”
The coffin was later taken out and wrapped in the Congolese flag.