The father of President Felix Tshisekedi, opposition icon Etienne Tshisekedi, was laid to rest Saturday in his homeland more than two years after he died during a political stalemate over the country’s long-delayed elections.
Thousands took part in the procession which made its way to the outskirts of Kinshasa following several days of tributes to the man who was the face of Congo’s opposition for decades but died before his political nemesis agreed to step aside and allow a new presidential vote to go forward.
Because of his years of activism, Tshisekedi , age 84, was at times put under house arrest and his supporters jailed.
Tens of thousands greeted his casket as it was driven through the streets of the capital Thursday evening and then displayed at Martyrs Stadium the following day. Even the political coalition of his lifelong adversary, former President Joseph Kabila, issued a statement calling Tshisekedi “undoubtedly one of the major political actors of our country.” The funeral mass was led by Archbishop of Kinshasa Fridolin Ambongo. The country’s influential Catholic church had urged its members to turn out at the 80,000-capacity Martyrs’ Stadium.
On Friday, the presidents of Rwanda and Angola, were among huge crowds to pay their respects in the same stadium in the capital, Angola.
At the time of his 2017 death in Brussels, family members say Kabila had blocked the return of his body to Congo for fear it could foment unrest and more calls for his ouster.
Tshisekedi was one of the most outspoken critics of Kabila, at one point accusing him of treason for not stepping down when his mandate ended. Kabila eventually allowed elections to be held in January, which Felix Tshisekedi won.
It took the hearse seven hours to reach its destination in Kinshasa on Thursday night as throngs of supporters took to the streets.
“I’m sorry that his body had to stay two years abroad but today we are showing our commitment to him still,” Georgette Lobota said as she sold bread at the sports stadium where Tshisekedi’s body lay in state Friday, dressed in fabric with his image. “He will finally be honored as a dignified son of Congo.”