A public square in Brussels will carry the name of Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo whose death at the hands of Belgium, the United States and others is now widely acknowledged.
Toppled by western countries barely three months after his election in 1961, Lumumba died in horrific fashion. After he was kidnapped, arrested and tortured, his body was cut up with a hacksaw and soaked in sulphuric acid – eliminating any trace of his physical being.
The naming ceremony unsurprisingly failed to quell the controversy of the coup which devastated the resource-wealthy DRC with the installation of President Mobutu Sese Seko, one of the most feared and brutal dictators, who died in 1997.
Patrice Lumumba Square leads into Congolese Matonge, a home to many Congolese migrants. For some, the square naming was merely a symbolic move by a country which rarely acknowledges a racist colonial past.
The move to get a memorial to the fallen icon started as far back as 2005, three years after Belgium officially apologized for their part in Lumumba’s death.
Socialist mayor Philippe Close said in a radio interview that he was “extremely proud” to end what he called a “taboo” in Belgium to mention the coup d’etat after years of efforts by the Congolese community for some kind of memorial to Lumumba.
“This is an area everyone knows, which has a very deep symbolism for our community. It’s a great victory,” Lydia Mutyebele, a local socialist councillor who led the project, told the French news agency AFP.
Lumumba embodies for many young people “an attachment to an Africa that they know very little about, because they were born here,” she said.
Several speakers criticized the fact that statues to Belgium’s King Leopold II are still visible everywhere in Brussels, despite the horrors of his brutal rule over the Congo in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Other statues to colonialist figures in Brussels still honor the “heroes” who “brought civilization to the Congo”.