A Belgian court announced that it would return Patrice Émery Lumumba’s tooth to his family. Juliana Lumumba, daughter of the hero of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s independence, spoke with about the symbolic significance of the ruling and, especially, the unknowns that continue to surround the 1961 assassination of the first prime minister of the then newly independent nation.
A tooth. A Belgian court announced that it would return just that to Patrice Lumumba’s family. The tooth in question, which had been under seal prior to the ruling because it was evidence in an inquiry opened by Belgium into Lumumba’s death, is the only known remains of the leader who is still regarded to this day as the hero of the country’s independence.
Lumumba, the short-lived prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which had just gained its independence in 1960, known for his famous independence day speech, was overthrown and arrested a few months later.
On 17 January 1961, in Moïse Tshombe’s briefly secessionist Katanga province, Lumumba was tortured under the supervision of Belgian officers before being executed under circumstances which, 60 years on, have yet to come to light.
His body was never found, and for good reason. In a television documentary from 2000, the Belgian police commissioner Gérard Soete recounted how he had dismembered the former prime minister’s body and then dissolved the remains in acid. With evidence in hand, he said that he had kept a tooth belonging to Lumumba, a relic later seized in 2016 as part of an investigation opened in 2012 by Belgium’s federal prosecutor after several children of the deceased prime minister filed a complaint.