Coffin of assassinated Congolese leader Lumumba returns home to DRC

Coffin of assassinated Congolese leader Lumumba returns home to DRC
Illustration picture shows the official ceremony to return Lumumba's remains to his family on Monday 20 June in Brussels. Credit: Belga/Nicolas Maeterlinck

The coffin of assassinated former Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba arrived in the Haut-Katanga province in the southeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where a wake was held at the site of the murder.

The DRC's current Prime Minister, Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde, received the coffin with Lumumba's last remains – the tooth that was returned by Belgium last week – at Lubumbashi airport on Sunday.

From there, it was taken some 50 kilometres away to Shilatembo, where a mausoleum for the coffin was built on the site where Lumumba and two of his associates were killed.

Translation of tweet: "Lumumba memorial at Shilatembo village in Haut-Katanga. This afternoon, tributes to the former Prime Minister will take place. Shilatembo, on the Lubumbashi-Likasi road, is where the hero was executed with his companions."

According to reports in local media, officials, traditional leaders, members of his family and a crowd were at the scene to pay tribute to the three men, "with feelings of sadness and joy," said Haut-Katanga Governor Jacques Kyabula.

With the return of Lumumba's remains to the DRC, "the time has come for the Democratic Republic of Congo to write its own history," said Sama Lukonde.

On 17 January 1961, Patrice Lumumba, the then-Senate Vice-President Joseph Okito, and Youth Minister Maurice Mpolo were executed in Shilatembo, according to historian Guillaume Nkongolo, a Professor at the University of Lubumbashi.

The three men were taken to the big mining town after their depositions, where they were tortured and later executed by the Katanga provincial authorities with Belgian accomplices.

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During the ceremony in which Belgium returned Lumumba's tooth to the DRC last week, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo also apologised for the role Belgium played in the assassination. "A man was murdered for his political convictions, for his ideals. As a democrat and a liberal, I cannot accept this."

He even went one step further and stressed that Belgium should have acted differently: "Belgian ministers, diplomats, civil servants or soldiers may not have had the intention to have Patrice Lumumba killed. No evidence was found to support that they did. But they should have seen that transferring him to Katanga would endanger his life."

“They should have warned, they should have refused any help in transferring Lumumba to the place where he was executed,” De Croo said. “But they chose not to see it. They chose not to act.”

An official burial ceremony for Lumumba's remains is planned to take place in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa on the symbolic date of 30 June, when the country also celebrates its Independence Day.

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