Tue, Feb 07, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Congolese flock to Brussels to mourn

AFP, BRUSSELS

Congolese on Sunday gather to pay homage to Democratic Republic of the Congo opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi at a wake in his honor in Brussels, Belgium.

Photo: AFP

Tears flowed on Sunday as thousands of members of the Congolese diaspora paid their emotional last respects to opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, known affectionately as “papa,” who died in Brussels last week.

After a three-day funeral wake, Tshisekedi’s coffin was put on display for several hours in a large hall made available by city authorities, near the famous Atomium tourist attraction, journalists said.

Many waited in line for hours to get in and bow their heads in front of the casket, surrounded by wreaths of flowers and pictures of Tshisekedi, sporting his ever-present beret.

They came from across Belgium, but also traveled from France, Britain and Germany, to pay a final tribute to “Tshishi,” as his supporters called him.

“He is dead but his spirit remains among us. We will keep his heritage alive,” one man told the crowd through a microphone, drawing applause in a hall filled with a festive atmosphere and many tearful eyes.

“He is our icon,” added Armand Moke, who came from Dortmund, Germany. “He is a man who fought for some 30 years to establish democracy in our country.”

Pelagie, 50 and from Antwerp, Belgium, where she has lived for 10 years, added: “We have lost a real papa.”

“He is a hero. What he did for Congo, nobody can do,” she said, without hiding her concern. “Who is going to replace him?”

Tshisekedi died on Wednesday, having left the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) eight days earlier for medical care abroad. His death has plunged the vast African country further into uncertainty.

He played a key role in negotiations aimed at peacefully resolving the political crisis triggered by Congolese President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to leave power.

Kabila’s mandate ended on Dec. 20 last year, but he has vowed to remain in office until elections can be held to choose a successor.

Tshisekedi became a dissident in 1979-1980 when he denounced the arbitrary rule of Congolese president Mobutu Sese Seko, whom he had supported in gaining power after the country’s independence from Belgium in 1960.

He then led opposition to former Congolese president Laurent Kabila, who took office by force in 1997, followed by his son Joseph who became president after his father’s assassination in 2001.

Beaten in 2011 elections tainted by massive irregularities, Tshisekedi refused to recognize Kabila’s legitimacy to the very last.

“We invested a lot of hope in dialogue,” said Jean-Pierre Mukendi, a Congolese who has been a priest in the Brabant Wallon region of central Belgium for 17 years.

“We told ourselves that we were nearly at the end of the tunnel,” he said, adding: “We are going through a time of uncertainty, but we remain hopeful.”

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