Evictions in Luanda: ‘They came like animals’

14 09 2009

NIREN TOLSI – Sep 14 2009 06:00 – Mail & Guardian

‘They came like cabrito [goats], like animals in the middle of the night; the police and the army, breaking down our doors and telling us to move,’ says Angelina Conceicao, recalling her forced removal from Luanda’s Ilha de Luanda.
Angelina (not her real name) is standing outside the tent she shares with another family, surrounded by her five young children — most of them as naked and dusty as this spot outside Luanda where security forces dumped them four months ago.

There is no electricity, running water, rubbish collection or sewerage system in this temporary government camp, Zango I. The tents, says another resident, Maria Esperanza (not her real name), only arrived after her family and 1 000 others had spent a month on the side of road.

“We were left in the open air, with whatever possessions we had getting destroyed by the rain,” says Esperanza. “Later the government started distributing tents, but when they saw we had nothing they started selling them to us. The first day it was $100, but they soon lowered the price — we paid $10.”

This is an increasingly common story in Luanda, a city that, although initially built for 500 000, now houses close to five million people because of the urban migration induced by the 27 years of civil war, according to anti-evictions NGO SOS Habitat.

Sociologist Allan Cain says 75% of Luanda’s population live in the musseques (peri-urban slums), and “80% of those residents have no clear legal title to the land they occupy”.

With petro-dollars fuelling Luanda’s reconstruction and the wealthier classes scrambling for prime property, the city’s poor have suffered.

The government is “cleaning up” Luanda’s sprawling musseques to meet President Jose Eduardo dos Santos’s promise to build a million
new homes by 2012.

But the developmental model is apparently based on evicting entire communities — mainly illegally, and by force, to the isolated Zango camps I, II and III.

Human Rights Watch and SOS Habitat claim that between 2002 and 2006 the state conducted at least 18 mass evictions “involving violence and excessive use of force”.

The 2007 report to the United Nations details some of these abuses:

  • Between November 2005 and March 2006, police and private developers demolished homes in the Luanda suburbs of Cambamba I, II, Banga We and Bairro 28 De Agosto to make way for the upmarket Nova Vida residential development. The report says the land earmarked for development “was allocated without due legal process, without consulting the affected community and without any effort to provide compensation or adequate alternative housing to those unable to provide for themselves”.
  • Between June 2004 and November 2005, 2 000 families were forcibly evicted from the Kilamba Kiaxi municipality on the outskirts of Luanda and according to the report, “police beat and arrested several residents and activists”.
  • In a June 2004 eviction, police “shot and wounded three residents”. The UN says the homes were demolished “without reasonable notice”.
  • Two weeks before the Mail & Guardian’s visit to Zango, about 3 000 families from the Kilamba Kiaxi musseques, nicknamed Baghdad and Iraq, were evicted to Zango, again at dead of night.

SOS Habitat director Luiz Araujo said the government’s strategy was to “separate the poor and the elite”, especially in Luanda’s many mixed-class areas.

Angelina and Maria, for example, were removed four months ago from the Ilha de Luanda, the strip of land separating Luanda’s harbour from the ocean.

A mixture of decrepit fishermen’s shacks, swanky bars and new hotels, it is a prime location. Chinese companies are driving Angola’s infrastructure development.

Martyn Davies, executive director of the Centre for Chinese Studies (CCS) at Stellenbosch University, estimates that 35 Chinese construction companies are helping to build roads, bridges, skyscraping casino-hotel complexes and low-income housing projects in exchange for more than 30% of Angola’s crude oil exports.

The China International Trust and Investment Corporation is partnering the Angolan government on the $3.5- billion Kilamba Kiaxi housing project, which will accommodate about 200 000 people and include business units and schools.

About 10 000 Chinese workers are on site, says a recent CCS report. China has a “non-interference” policy in Africa. Trade with Angola amounted to $25.3-billion last year.

The 150 South African business people who accompanied President Jacob Zuma on his state visit to Angola clearly want a slice of the action. South Africa’s trade and industry department acknowledged that inter-governmental agreements would facilitate South African companies “being part of Dos Santos’s project to roll out a million houses in Angola”.

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