YEARS of slumbering animosity ended in two different member states of the Southern African Development Community when the remains of former Angolan rebel leader, Jonas Savimbi and that of veteran Democratic of the Congo opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi was reinterred with the dignity they deserved.
The two separate acts of reconciliation occurred on Saturday, 17 years after Savimbi was killed in battle with government soldiers and two years after Tshisekedi’s death in Belgium. Both the former opposition leaders were reburied along the wishes of their families in the two neighbouring countries.
Etienne Tshisekedi, a national icon and one of the most important advocates for democracy in the DRC died in a hospital in Brussels in early 2017 after a long battle with pulmonary embolism. He was 84 at the time of his death.
President Joseph Kabila’s government did not facilitate a return of the remains of the former Prime Minister at the time of his death and he was buried in a private ceremony attended by family and friends in Belgium. His remains were exhumed an returned to Kinshasa late last week after a state funeral accorded upon him by his son and recently elected President Felix Tshisekedi.
Etienne Tshisekedi founded the main opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress in 1984 after resigning as Prime Minister from the cabinet of the late President Mobutu Sese Seko and became the main opponent of former president Laurent Kabila, who took power in 1997 as well as President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled the country until earlier this year when Felix Tshisekedi was elected as president.
Savimbi was buried in his home village of Lopitanga during a public funeral which is widely seen as an act of national reconciliation seventeen years after the end of the bloody civil war that ravaged Angola.
Hundreds of people accompanied his remains to the village in the centre of the country, where his remains was reinterred.
Jonas Savimbi, known as the “black rooster”, was killed on 22 February 2002 during a clash with the army near Luena, in the centre of the country. He was 67 years old at the time. He was hurriedly buried near the Angolan city the day after his death.
Less than two months after Savimbi’s death, a ceasefire ended 27 years of civil war
Savimbi’s reburial was the result long negotiation process with the Angolan authorities for a proper exhumation and burial in Lopitanga, in accordance with Jonas Savimbi’s wishes.
Tens of thousands of people attended the memorial service for Tshisekedi in a stadium in the capital that was led by Archbishop of Kinshasa Fridolin Ambongo.
Thousands of former Unita fighters wearing white T-shirts emblazoned with images of Savimbi attended the ceremony of his reburial in Lopitanga.