In a letter addressed to King Philippe of Belgium, Juliana Lumumba, the daughter of Congo’s first prime minister Patrice Lumumba has asked for the return of her father’s “relics”.
"We the children of Lumumba, we the Lumumba family ask for the just return of the relics of Patrice Emery Lumumba to the ground of his ancestors," said Juliana Lumumba's letter, which French press agency AFP saw on Tuesday.
With ‘relics’, Juliana Lumumba is likely referring to her father’s teeth and several finger bones, which were kept in the possession of former Belgian chief of police, Gérard Soete, who admitted to assisting in Lumumba’s murder in 1961.
Juliana Lumumba sent her letter to King Philippe on 30 June of this year, which is Congo’s Independence Day. She describes her father as “a hero without a grave”. With her letter, she hopes for the return of the last mortal remains of her father.
Soete, born in Pittem, Flanders, was active with the police force in Congo between 1946 and 1972. Congo gained its independence in June 1960, after which Lumumba became the country’s first prime minister.
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In September of 1960, Joseph-Désiré Mobutu organised a coup d’état, following the Congo Crisis led by separatists who were based in the resource-rich province of Katanga. In January 1961, Lumumba and two of his associates were executed by Katangese firing squads, with Belgian officers present.
Soete admitted in 2000 that he had helped to dismember Lumumba’s body following the execution, after which the remains were solved in acid. At this moment in time, Soete took several of Lumumba’s finger bones and multiple teeth, one of which was covered in gold, reportedly seeing them as “a type of hunting trophy”.
A Belgian parliamentary enquiry from 2001 determined that several Belgian officials were morally responsible for Lumumba’s death. The Belgian government apologised for the murder in 2002.
Soete was never prosecuted, and so the remains of Lumumba were kept in his possession until his death in 2000. In 2016, Soete’s daughter Godelieve Soete showed one of Lumumba’s teeth during an interview with Humo.
Following the interview, Godelieve Soete’s house was searched by the police, and the remains were taken to be stored in Brussels’ Palace of Justice.
Last June, on Congo’s Independence Day, King Philippe became the first Belgian royal to apologise for the Belgian atrocities in colonial Congo.
Maïthé Chini & Amée Zoutberg
The Brussels Times