A gold-crowned tooth, the only remains that belonged to assassinated Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba, was returned on Monday in Brussels by the Belgian government to his family as part of a move to reflect on the country’s brutal colonial legacy in Africa.

Lumumba, the first democratically elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, known then as the Republic of the Congo, was murdered at 35 by separatists and Belgian mercenaries in January 1961, with US government involvement being reported. Lumumba was a hero of Africa’s struggle against colonialism and its fight for independence.

During a ceremony at the Egmont Palace in Brussels on Monday, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo handed over Lumumba’s only remains placed in a light blue case to a group of his descendants. It was then placed in a casket and taken to the DR Congo embassy in Brussels.

The casket will be flown to DR Congo where a three-day national mourning will be held from June 27 to 30, its 62nd anniversary of independence from Belgium.

“I would like, in the presence of his family, to present in my turn the apologies of the Belgian government,” De Croo said. “This is a painful and disagreeable truth, but must be spoken… A man was murdered for his political convictions, his words, his ideals.”

The tooth was stolen and kept as a memento by Belgian police officer Gerard Soete who oversaw the dissolution of Lumumba’s body in acid after his assassination.

Lumumba’s son Roland said last week that the return of the tooth meant his family would be able to “finish their mourning”.

The family has waged a prolonged campaign to get the remains back. It filed a complaint in 2016, prompting Belgian officials to seize the tooth from the police officer’s family.

Belgium has been making efforts to reflect on its colonial past, especially after the Black Lives Matter movement sparked widespread protest against the bloody colonial rule and exploitation of Congo, 77 times the size of Belgium, by King Leopold II.

According to historians, more than 10 million Africans died during King Leopold II’s brutal rule, but some put the number at several million. In Brussels’ city center, a Patrice Lumumba square was inaugurated in 2018.

‘Deepest regrets’

Belgian King Philippe expressed his “deepest regrets” for his country’s abuses in its former African colony during his visit to DR Congo at the invitation of President Felix Tshisekedi.

But the absence of the word “apology” in his speech has triggered anger in the Congolese community.

Kambale Musavuli, a DR Congo native and analyst with the Center for Research on the Congo-Kinshasa, told Seal News that what has been happening is “a very important story”.

“Patrice Lumumba was assassinated, buried, excavated, cut into pieces, then pieces thrown into acid to hide the evidence of the crime. They told us we Congolese killed him in 1961. Today, Belgium is returning his tooth without any criminal investigation. That’s a crime in itself!” he wrote in a tweet on Monday.

In response to a post by Chinese Ambassador to DR Congo Zhu Jing on his volunteer work at the construction site of the Patrice Lumumba monument in Kinshasa on Sunday, Musavuli said he is reflecting on the actions of the US and Belgium as they participated in the assassination of Lumumba.

“Belgium kept his tooth as a trophy and 61 years later, they are putting the tooth in a coffin and giving it back to us! I can’t tweet my thoughts,” he said.

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