The family of assassinated Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba will soon receive his only known remains – a tooth removed after his death by a Belgian man whose family apparently held on to it for nearly 60 years.
Juliana Amato Lumumba had asked Belgium’s king earlier this year for help in getting back the tooth, saying her father had been “condemned to remain a dead person without burial, having only a date on a tomb”.
The federal prosecutor’s office in Belgium has now announced that Mr Lumumba’s family will be handed back the tooth.
There is no absolute certainty that the tooth belonged to Mr Lumumba “since there could be no DNA test”, said Eric Van Duyse, a federal prosecutor’s office spokesman. “If such a test had been done it would have destroyed the tooth itself.”
However, judicial officials are all but certain of its origin because of how authorities obtained it, Mr Van Duyse said.
Mr Lumumba pushed to end Belgium’s colonial rule in Congo, and went on to become the country’s first prime minister after independence.
When dictator Mobutu Sese Seko seized power in a military coup later that year, Mr Lumumba was arrested and jailed. His assassination in January 1961 at the hands of suspected Katanga separatists ultimately cleared the way for Mobutu to rule for decades until his death in 1997.
Mr Lumumba was hastily buried after his killing. But Belgian police officers later dug up the corpse, dissolved it in acid and crushed the remaining bones to prevent the grave from becoming a pilgrimage site.
Initially, it was believed that one of those officers had removed several teeth and a finger bone from Mr Lumumba’s corpse. However, Belgian authorities say they only have recovered one tooth, which will soon be returned to his family.