Angola: Rebuilding by demolishing - politics of national reconstruction
by Sylvia Croese, Luanda
by Sylvia Croese, Luanda
Rebuilding by demolishing - the politics of national reconstruction
8 March marked the start of 'Operation Combat and Demolition of Shacks and Anarchic Constructions in the Municipality of Lubango', in the capital of the South Western province of Huila in Angola. So far, 2,000 houses have been demolished along the Moçâmedes Railway (CFM) which has been under reconstruction since 2005 and will ultimately re-connect the coastal harbour town of Namibe to the southern province of Kuando Kubango, passing through the province of Huila as part of the country's Programme for National Reconstruction. 1,000 more houses are to follow in the second phase of the operation.
It is not the first time that large-scale demolitions have taken place in Angola, that ironically are part of the government's efforts to rebuild the country after a war that lasted over three decades. During the parliamentary elections campaign of 2008, the Angolan president José Eduardo dos Santos promised to construct 1 million houses spread over the country's 18 provinces until 2012. After the elections, it turned out that the majority of these houses will have to be built by citizens themselves under government-led 'auto-construction' programmes. The minimum average cost for construction in Angola is about US$300 per square meter, while over half of the Angolan population still lives on less than US$2 a day.
Meanwhile, 'illegal' houses continue to be demolished in the capital city of Luanda (an estimated 3,000 homes affecting 15,000 people in 2009), and increasingly in the interior provinces of the country like the coastal province of Benguela and recently, Huila to clear ground for new public construction or infrastructure projects. Although Angola's recently approved constitution secures and charges the government with the promotion of the right to housing and quality of life (article 85), entire neighbourhoods all over the country continue to lack access to water and electricity. The government's arrogant and neglectful attitude towards this right is illustrated by the recent demolitions in Lubango, which have received virtually no attention in the state media.
According to local non-governmental organisations, to date almost 3,000 families have been evicted and temporarily accomodated in schools and stadiums before being forcibly transferred to Tchavola, an area 9 km outside of Lubango city centre where they are expected to rebuild their lives. Although journalists are not allowed to enter the area, this week independent newspaper Novo Jornal was able to find out that during a visit of CFM railway officials in November 2009, people were notified about the evictions but told that they would all would receive new houses. It now appears that these houses must be built by the people themselves on plots to be bought from provincial government for about US$250 each.
There are also reports that parts of the assigned plots are on farming land, which has sparked tensions between the displaced families and the original inhabitants of Tchavola. So far, only 700 tents have been distributed to provide the families in Tchavola with temporary shelter. Children are missing school and parents, which include teachers and public officials, are not going to work as they are afraid to leave the area and miss out on plots or tents for their families. Basic sanitary conditions are lacking - there are only open waterholes - and there is little to no access to electricity, food or blankets.
These conditions are exacerbated by the frequent and heavy rainfall. Robberies take place at night because there are no police present. Seven people are reported to have lost their lives, including two children. In an interview with Novo Jornal, the governor of the province of Huila, Isaac dos Anjos, justifies the evictions and inferior conditions in Tchavola as a necessary adherence to the law, which he says is more important than humanitarian considerations. 'The clock doesn't stop ticking. We had to continue our operation as planned, whether the conditions were created or not.' Citizens claiming to have documents from municipal authorities proving legal residence and compensation for their losses are left empty-handed as Article 95 of the recently approved Constitution and Article 25 of the Law of Land state that all land is state property and unauthorised construction on public land constitutes a violation of these laws. According to the governor, these kind of acts of corruption cannot be rewarded: 'people have to take responsibility for their actions'.
Meanwhile the second secretary of Huila province, Virgilio Tyova, has offered apologies and compensation to victims of the evictions in Lubango, in name of the ruling governing party MPLA. The mayor of the city of Lubango chipped in by agreeing that the legal procedures regarding demolitions, evictions and replacements adopted by the National Assembly as Resolution 37/2009 in September last year should have been followed, which would have safeguarded better conditions for the evicted families.
In a radio interview by Voice of America, Governor dos Anjos says these statements stem from the wish to distance themselves from government acts that can put them or the party in a bad light and calls for the resignation of the mayor of Lubango. Earlier, the governor had already stated in Novo Jornal that none of the appointed members of the Provincial Intervention Commission set up 'for the eviction of the citizens that occupy public spaces', including officials from the provincial authorities in the areas of finances, health, security forces, social assistance, public works and housing as well as transport, had stepped up to their responsibilities upon the start of the operations, leaving the governor himself to lead the demolition process on the ground.
Central government also seems to have left Governor dos Anjos to his own devices to fulfil this dirty job in order to uphold its own image. While the minister for Urban Development and Construction José Ferreira attended the 5th World Urban Forum in Brasil this week (during which the will to shortly open a UN-Habitat office in Angola was reiterated), MPLA flags were burnt by people in the Sofrio quarter in Lubango. Central government then ordered the demolitions to be stopped, indicating that the complete operation was instructed from above. The demolitions were later resumed, but limited to all dwellings within a scope of 25 to 30 meters around the railway instead of the earlier 50 meters, saving about 100 houses.
Angolan civil society, leaders of the political opposition as well as the Catholic Church in the person of the archbishop of Lubango have spoken out against the demolitions, receiving letters of support from all over the world. This is a remarkable achievement for Angolan civil society and its supporters. The non-governmental organisation OMUNGA is waiting for a court's decision on a march on Thursday 25 March in Benguela it is organising to express solidarity with all victims of demolitions and forced evictions in Angola. This march was prohibited by the provincial government of Benguela, but OMUNGA has said it will go through with it no matter what the court decides, claiming its right to protest.
*Sylvia Croese is an independent Dutch-Angolan researcher and consultant, based in Luanda.
It is worth mentioning that this is the same Isaac dos Anjos who was convicted when chairperson of the board of an Investment Fund set up by the Angolan president, after the Angolan state's Audit Department discovered that the Fund's management didn't have any proper accounting procedures in place and diverted funds to private ends (see Marques de Morais work on 'Angola's MPs and business dealings' published in January on this website).