By Leroy Dzenga
Harare – Africa’s encounter with colonialism had one common effect.
Those who resisted the settlers were often jailed, tortured, maimed and/or killed for their impertinence.
Gerard Soete, the Belgian policeman who was tasked to bury Patrice Lumumba, spoke with unrestrained glee about his role in the murder and dismembering of the Congolese independence leader in 1961.
In his book The Arena: The Story of Lumumba’s Assassination, Soete gave a graphical recollection of how he played a part in violating the corpse of one of Africa’s greatest heroes. As trophies, he took two of Lumumba’s teeth back to Europe with him.
Sixteen years after Soete`s death in 2000, his daughter surrendered a tooth to Belgian authorities, and a judge ruled that it be returned to Lumumba’s family. Last month, it was announced that the tooth would indeed be returned.
Lumumba’s son Roland: “For us, it is not a tooth. For us, the Bantu, when someone dies far from home, and we can’t bring him back, we bring at least a bit of his hair and his nails and bury them at home. So for us, it’s his remains and it means a lot to us.”
There is a line-up of festivities awaiting the return of Lumumba`s tooth, with the Congolese Presidency saying the government will build a mausoleum.
Zimbabwe has a similar story to tell.
Revolutionary war inspiration Charwe – the medium of the spirit known as Nehanda – was hanged by the British in 1898 and her remains were taken to the United Kingdom, where they are being kept in the Natural History Museum in London.
Unveiling a statue of Nehanda in Harare on Africa Day 2021, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said there had been progress in engaging the British to return the remains.
Also in Southern Africa, Namibian authorities have been pushing for the return of hundreds of skulls of people killed by the German colonial government. Many of these were returned in 2018.
More recently, Germany agreed to pay reparations to the tune of US$1.3 billion over 30 years for its 1904-1908 genocide in Namibia.
Questions have been asked about why the return of relics and mementos even matters.
Zimbabwean traditional leader Chief Makoni says: “It has been close to 40 years after we attained our independence and we still haven’t brought back the skulls of our icons and our culture rightly says if a person dies or is killed in a native land that person can only rest if the body and soul has been united with their roots.
“Many people might just think the skulls are not important but they are very important, and the white settlers knew that if they take just the head then they have disconnected the connection between the body and the head and the person will not become a spirit medium.” added Chief Makoni in a media appearance, last year.
Others say there is need for a concerted effort to get Europe to return relics instead of the current isolated and piecemeal efforts.
Every country that sat at the table at the Berlin Conference should likewise be pushed onto the path of reconciliation as reparations.
As the mementos of pain find their way back home, they should open platforms for discourse on the scars the continent still bears.
The financing being given as reparations should also be scrutinised to avoid recolonisation thinly veiled as efforts to atone for the past.
Genocide: Time to share the wealth
Harare – With three European countries coming out in the open over the past decade to acknowledge their role in the massacre of Africans, critics say it is time to go a step further and do something about the wealth looted from Africa.
Britain in 2013 agreed to pay compensation for the Mau Mau massacres in Kenya and last week Germany offered to pay US$1.3 billion over the next 30 years for the genocide of the Ovaherero and Nama in Namibia. France has been engaging in public handwringing for its misdeeds in Rwanda.
“Let’s think beyond the money that Germany is giving Namibia. It should be beyond this, Germany should enable Namibians to own some of the wealth owned by Germans in that country,” South African academic and analyst Tinyiko Maluleke told Anadolu Agency this week.
Maluleke says Germany controls much of Namibia’s economy and this needs to be redressed.
Another South Africa-based analyst, Iqbal Jassat, says ex-colonies must demand accountability from their oppressors.
“Unless citizens of former colonies demand restitution, we expect little or no movement towards justice,” he said. “Germany belatedly but finally has emerged from its dark history as a colonial power by acknowledging its genocidal role in Namibia.”
Colonial Germany killed about three-quarters of the Ovaherero and Nama population between 1904 and 1908. They also tortured tens of thousands of people, conducted human experiments and turned women into sex slaves.
In Kenya, Britain massacred and/or maimed at least 90,000 people during the Mau Mau Uprising and another 160,000 were detained, tortured and raped between 1952 and 1960.
A 2013 agreement saw Britain offering to pay US$30 million to 5,228 claimants.
Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron stopped short of apologising for France’s complicity in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
“France did not understand that, while trying to prevent a regional conflict, or a civil war, it was in fact standing by the side of a genocidal regime,” President Macron said. “By doing so, it endorsed an overwhelming responsibility.”