Violence: The way of politics in Angola
Rafael Marques de Morais
On September 3, 2011, up to six armed men surrounded youth protest leader ‘Pandita Nehru’ nearby Independence Square, in Luanda, where he and several others planned to hold a protest that morning. The assailants took him south, on a trip out of the city, to a deserted coastline, known as Palmeirinhas, where, in 1977, the dominant faction of MPLA held summary executions of hundreds of dissenters and innocents, burned their bodies with petrol, and buried them on sight.
The captors interrogated ‘Pandita Nehru’ on who was behind the protests, beat him up and taunted him with an argument, among themselves, on the wisdom to execute him right there. Ever since, he has been mostly off the radar.
On March 7, 2012, at around 4 PM, Mário Domingos, aged 27, and Kimbamba, aged 30, were on their way to meet other fellow protest organizers to sort out the logistics of a protest they had called for March 10. A few hundred meters from the meeting point, up to 10 armed and masked individuals rounded them at gunpoint, in front of police officers.
“I grabbed a bar of the mobile police station, the assailants discharged electric shocks on us, beat us up, stripped us of our cell phones and documents in front of the police officers, who just watched unmoved,” said Mário Domingos.
The victim said they were hauled into two vehicles without license plates and driven off a few meters to the premises of the state-owned Provincial Water Company (EPAL), which has high walls, as people were assembling in the street. In the company’s yard, as told by Mário Domingos, the abductors beat them up and fired at them with teasers (electrified darts) to immobilize them, and drove off. The victims were presented before the vice-president of Kabuscorp Football Club, Mr. Raúl.
“Mr. Raúl promised us money to stop organizing protests against President José Eduardo dos Santos,” explained Mário Domingos. Kabuscorp, in which former Brazilian world champion Rivaldo plays, is owned by General Bento Kangamba, who is also the president of the club. The general, a member of MPLA Central Committee, is also part of the presidential family, by marriage to Dos Santos’ niece.
He has been accused on several occasions of being behind the pro-dos Santos militias who have been targeting protest leaders with vicious attacks and abductions. On June 4, general Kangamba denied, on the Catholic-run FM broadcaster Rádio Ecclésia, any involvement with the militias. “Have I been promoted to the rank of three-star general to command militias? This [accusation] is lack of respect. It is envy,” he said.
However, Mário Domingos and Kimbamba witnessed Mr. Raúl issuing orders to his club thugs. “He said that we were stubborn elements who wanted to be heroes and die for the people. So, he told his men to get rid of us.’” The abductors took the victims to a landfill.
Mário Domingos added: “There we were tortured with electric shocks, beaten up as they pleased. But there were some people around who heard our screams and came forth. They [assailants] took us to the cars again, and drove us to a quieter landfill where they continued with the torture, but there were scavengers there too who heard us screaming.”
His story is also a case study on how president José Eduardo dos Santos and his close associates dispose of incalculable sums of money and other resources to corrupt people in order to maintain the status quo.
Last year, on August 27, the day before celebrating his birthday, president Dos Santos met with Mário Domingos, Luís Bernardo and Fernando Yannick, all leaders of the informal youth gathering called Movimento Revolucionário de Intervenção Social – MIRS (Revolutionary Movement for Social Intervention). The meeting was part of a deal negotiated with the president of the Executive Commission of Luanda City, general José Tavares Ferreira, who is part of the presidential inner circle.
According to Domingos, the deal was part of a strategy, “to transform our movement into a satellite organization of MPLA, for us to do solidarity work on their behalf, and hold counter-demonstrations to support president Dos Santos.” By the time of the meeting with the president, the movement had already received US $4 million in an escrow account, six pickup trucks Mitshubishi L200, and six apartments in the Chinese-built town of Kilamba. “The governor of Luanda at the time, José Maria, sent his driver to the bank with us, where we cashed in the equivalent of US $700 thousand in cash. Then the governor’s driver took us home,” Mário Domingos.
“From the association Akwasambila, in which the president is an honorary member, we received six truckloads of food and other goods for us to give away. The trucks belong to the municipal administration of Sambizanga, which was ran by general Tavares,” he further explained.
Some of the leaders of the movement happily switched sides and went ahead with “donating” the food and goods given to them by general Tavares in some social centers, always in the presence of members of the municipality and of the state security. But Mário Domingos decided to use the pick up trucks and some of the petty cash given by the governor to support the logistics of a demonstration set for September 3, by another loose group led by rappers.
As Mário Domingos insisted in leading a double political life, the authorities troubled him on September 9. At 7 AM, the police raided his house, seized the gifts he had received, and jailed him for 45 days without due process. “The police planted drugs behind a new TV set I had bought for my mother in-law, and justified my imprisonment as a drug dealer,” he said. He also revealed that he received various death threats while in jail.
One of the recurrent strategies the regime has used to bribe activists is to offer them houses, cars and other material incentives but without the proper paperwork, to facilitate the retrieval of the gifts, once the corrupted fails to be loyal or simply becomes irrelevant.
Mário Domingos claims that Luís Bernardo and Fernando Yannick, who remain sided with the regime, were only allowed to keep the pickup trucks. The apartments and the money simply vanished. He also said the previous governor of Luanda, José Maria, had personally offered him one of the most recent Range-Rover models, which he just drove from the car stand.
Now, the authorities are threatening to close the garage he inherited from his father, in which he makes a living as an auto-painter, besides extended threats and “advice” to his family for him to toe the line.
On March 10, police officers and plain clothed officers, who had been monitoring youth protest leader Gaspar Luamba, a law student, stopped the taxi he was travelling in, and hauled him off to the 10th Police Station, in Cazenga, Luanda’s largest slum. They tortured him in the cell, and released him after three hours, as news was already out on the police’s involvement in his abduction. These events and all manners of harassment have led many youngsters, identified as potential leaders, to flee their homes and to seek safe houses.
But, rather than deterring the anti-regime sentiment and subdue people, this strategy only keeps stocking public anger.
Ironically, the scattering of these emerging youth groups and their leaders, as well as their lack of structural organization, has rendered the regime’s strategies of violence and corruption ineffective. Such strategies only give cannon fodder for Angolans to come to terms with the intractable wickedness of President Dos Santos and his regime.