TSHUMBE – The coffin of slain Congolese independence hero Patrice Lumumba returns to his home country on Wednesday for an emotional tour and funeral, more than six decades after his assassination.
A plane carried Lumumba’s last remains – a tooth given to his family by the Belgian ex-colonial on Monday – from Brussels to Kinshasa for a nine-day trip through the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The coffin and an accompanying delegation will then fly to the central province of Sankuru, where the country’s first post-independence leader was born in the village of Onalua in 1925.
The remains will visit sites symbolically important to Lumumba’s life and will be buried in a mausoleum in the capital Kinshasa on June 30, after three days of national mourning.
“His spirit that was imprisoned in Belgium is coming back here,” said Onalua Maurice Tasombo Omatuku, a traditional leader and nephew of Lumumba.
Finally able to mourn the loss of his uncle but knowing he was murdered in 1961, Omatuku said he felt emotionally torn apart.
‘THE SON IS RETURNING’
Onalua, which is part of a town called Lumumbaville in honor of the anti-colonial leader since 2013, was preparing to welcome his favorite son on Tuesday.
Despite the sweltering heat, men under police surveillance removed sand, branches and grass from the road leading to the nearby town of Tshumbe.
Palm leaves were placed on the side of the road next to Congolese flags, which were used as symbols of mourning or celebration.
In the village square, where the coffin was to arrive, a podium in the national colors of yellow, blue and red, tents and banners with Lumumba’s face were erected.
A local resident pointed to a large, unfinished concrete house that was falling into disrepair with much of the roof missing.
“This is the family plot where Lumumba was born,” he said.
Catherine Mbutshu said she was excited that Lumumba’s “relic” would finally return to the land of her ancestors.
“I’m old, my legs hurt, but I’m happy because the son is coming back,” said the woman who once knew Lumumba.
“I spoke to him before he left for Kisangani, his political stronghold in northeastern Congo,” she said.
Lumumba earned his place in history as an anti-colonial icon when the Democratic Republic of the Congo declared independence from Belgium on June 30, 1960 and delivered a fiery speech against settler racism.
He was overthrown in September before separatists from the southern Katanga region and Belgian mercenaries executed him and two close supporters, Maurice Mpolo and Joseph Okito, on January 17, 1961.
Lumumba’s body was dissolved in acid and never recovered.
Decades passed before human remains were discovered in Belgium after a Belgian police officer involved in Lumumba’s death bragged about his actions to the media. Belgian authorities confiscated the tooth from the officer in 2016.
A coffin with the tooth was placed in a coffin that Belgium handed over to Congolese authorities in the presence of Lumumba’s family during a solemn ceremony in Brussels on Monday.
“Father, we mourned your death without saying the funeral prayer…it was our duty as descendants to provide a dignified burial,” his daughter Juliana said.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo has again apologized for his country’s “moral responsibility” in Lumumba’s death.
Two weeks earlier, during his first trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Belgium’s King Philippe reiterated his “deepest regrets for the wounds” of Belgian colonial rule.
Historians say millions of people were killed, maimed or died of disease when they were forced to collect rubber under Belgian rule.
The country was also plundered for its mineral resources, timber and ivory.