previously idyllic bay became the port through which millions of
people were sold into slavery and exported to Brazil and other
countries, so the settlement grew. In 1605 the Portuguese
governor, Manuel Cerveira Pereira, declared Sao Paulo de
Loanda a city - the first to be founded by Europeans on the West Coast of
sub-Saharan Africa. As the slave trade died, other forms of trade developed
such as the export of cotton, palm oil, coffee, lime, wax, leather and ginguba
oil, and the city continued its expansion. Before independence from Portuguese
rule in 1975 the demographics were largely the Angolan masses on the outskirts
of the city with the Portuguese few in the centre. Today the expats live in the
town-housed suburbs such as Villa Alice while the rest of Luanda's residents
are either in cramped flats, mansions or the musseques.
To say that housing is inadequate is an understatement, and the
incredibly high infant mortality rate is just one indicator of the strain and
consequence of war and corruption. Millions live in trying conditions where
survival is the primary concern. The flats in the city are often overcrowded
and seldom enjoy luxuries such as running water.
Rich in resource and cultural heritage, this beautiful country is
struggling to get back onto its feet after centuries of colonial rule, and
three decades of civil war. Before the arrival of the Portuguese in 1575 the
African inhabitants of the area referred to the island-like strip that is today
a part of the city, as Loanda, meaning 'flat land'. As
Makeshift dwellings inside an old Portuguese
factory - a stone's throw from the presidential palace
Harbour scene from the Ilha
Townships in the outlying areas of
the city are known as the musseques, their name derived from 'mu seke' meaning
'area of sand'. This is perhaps the heart of Luanda. An aerial view of these
settlements forms a mosaic of various shades of brown squares, the thousands of
makeshift homes that ripple outwards from the city centre. As in any city
settlement, gangsterism is rife, but so is the zest for life, music and
dancing. Samba, a musseque on the shore a few kilometres from the city centre,
is home to close-knit communities who are always hoping for a better future for
themselves and their children. It is in these communities that the spirit of
independence from colonial rule was born, and where men and women have died for
their political alignment or beliefs.
On the other side of Luanda,
literally and metaphorically, the Ilha de Luanda resembles a tropical resort. A
strip of land much like an island although linked to the mainland, the Ilha
separates the city and bay from the open Atlantic Ocean. It is here that the
Angolans and expats alike come to swim and relax, and enjoy the sun and sea.
Although separated by the resort-type beaches allocated for those who can
afford to pay dollars to sit on a deck chair, the holiday vibe permeates
The chasm between the rich and poor,
the haves and have-nots, is immense, as the majority of the people struggle to
make it above the breadline in a city that has been sited as being more
expensive than London. It can cost up to $400 to get a phone line installed,
and this with no guarantees of the line working consistently. Dos Santos'
presidential palace looks regal and out of place on a hill overlooking
makeshift housing below, the freshly painted buildings, green grass and
fountains in sharp contrast to the surrounding structures. The Angolan elite
and those with foreign business interest, such as the oil companies, are the
minority who can actually afford to live in Luanda. One can relish a meal for
$70 on the Esplanade on the hill whilst hearing the festivities and noise from
the shacks below, the candles and lanterns forming an eerie glow in the dark.
Street children scratch in bins whilst the privileged pass by in four by fours.
Potholed roads, littered streets and buildings damaged beyond repair or simply
unfinished, are commonplace in the city that never sleeps. The empty shell of
the Ministry of Justice building is an ironic reminder of some of the gaping
holes in this society.
The people of Luanda are revelling
in the peace that has filtered through since the disintegration of the
once-powerful UNITA force after Jonas Savimbi's death in February last year.
The atmosphere on the streets is a mixture of relief and frustration. "It's
impossible to get anywhere here in Luanda," a young man from Samba says. "If
you don't know anybody in key positions, or have lots of dollars, it's a dead
end street!" Talk of corruption is on the lips of both professionals and
paupers, and it seems that the eradication of this will be the first saving
grace of the nation.
with plans for drastic action afoot.
Development and restoration of the city includes plans to reconstruct and
complete building operations of unfinished structures. Hopes are high that
these promises and projects to uplift Luanda are not merely talk to gain
funding and line pockets but genuine attempts to make the future of the city
and its inhabitants brighter. The
indomitable spirit of its people, an increasing hunger for justice and truth,
uninhibited voices of opposition, and true freedom - these are the real hope
for Luanda and the nation it represents.
Promises of development, both structural and social, abound. Door to
door rubbish removal, unheard of in the past, is supposedly on the cards for
the litter-infested city. Luanda provincial governor, Simao Paulo, has recently
approved a model that promises improved basic sanitation for the various areas
of the city. The drainage system,currently in a critical condition, is
The main road into Samba