José Fernandes de Barros, 48, a member of the former Popular Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola (FAPLA) Sergeants' and Soldiers' Claims Committee, was detained on the morning of June 25 by the Military Police.
According to Barros, who has been able to speak to Maka Angola, the members of his committee were called to the Military Police Unity in Grafanil, Viana, to receive a single payment of 55,000 kwanzas (US $550) each.
"We had the papers for us to receive the 55,000 kwanzas. When I handed mine over, they told me that I had already been paid. One of the officers went away to study my case, but it turned out to be a trick," Barros said.
"The officer told me 'we have been looking for you for a long time because you organised the demonstration' and they took me away to be interrogated," he said.
Barros explained that during the interrogation, the officers accused him of being involved with general Silva Mateus, the president of the May 27 Foundation and the Union of Tendencies of the ruling MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola). The foundation, though incipient, aims to promote discussion on the massacres of May 27, 1977, carried out by the faction of the then President Agostinho Neto against dissidents and innocent people, and which, according to conservative figures, left 30,000 people dead. The Union of Tendencies is an informal pressure group that seeks the reintegration of former dissidents like Silva Mateus into the party structure.
"I told them that I have nothing to do with general Silva Mateus and I acknowledge that I am one of the main members of the Sergeants' and Soldiers' Claims Committee," Barros said.
On September 17, 2011, José Fernandes de Barros signed a manifesto addressed to the Commander in Chief of the Angolan Armed Forces, general Geraldo Sachipenga Nunda, on behalf of those former FAPLA soldiers who have not gone through formal demobilisation.
Another member of the commission, who has not been arrested so far, Henriques Fula, 51, explained how the committee came to be: "In 1991, in the context of the Bicesse Peace Accords, the government was supposed to assemble us in the quartering areas for us to be demobilised, but didn't do so."
When war broke out again in October 1992, Fula said "the Defence Ministry ordered us to be rounded up. We were and still are more than 4,000 men. We were taken to the former Comandante Gika officers' school."
Fula explained how since then there have been weekly routine parade sessions at the orders of the Defence Ministry, with no purpose whatsoever. After Comandante Gika, where they had to parade on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the soldiers were transferred to the Luanda Military Region Headquarters, still in limbo, and finally to the Signals Regiment, where the soldier's only orders and duties were to stand in parade on Thursdays.
"We were hoping that the Ministry would decide on our case, whether we would return to active duty, or if they would demobilise us and pay us our dues. We have been in this uncertain situation for almost 20 years," Fula said. He also said the officers in the group had become part of the Angolan Armed Forces' (FAA) Social Security Fund while the sergeants and soldiers were abandoned. "This is why we formed the committee," he emphasised.
The soldiers' claims are supported in part by Decree 16/94 of the Council of Ministers on the Social Security System. The decree names as beneficiaries of the Armed Forces Social Security System:
• Soldiers of the permanent force (Article 2, 1, a);
• Citizens who were incorporated into military organisations inside the national territory and who, as a result of the Angola Peace Accords, are registered as staff of the Angolan Armed Forces (Article 2, 1, b);
• Soldiers' family members (Article 2, 1, c);
Apart from making reference to the law, the former soldiers have strengthened their petition to the General Chief of Staff by naming in their manifesto the three official letters drawn up by the Attorney General (no 599/2005) and the Commander in Chief of the FAA (no 0504/2005 and no 024/2006) for the payment of ten years' worth of pensions owed to the claimants.
In a letter addressed to the General Chief of Staff, the claimants asked: "Does the revolution in the end only benefit the clever ones? If so, congratulations! Woe on the illiterate natives, those who are left ruined - some of whom lost their parents, husbands left mutilated - that even those who fought with us and who are now in power are blackmailing and manipulating us, their former comrades in arms!"
The letter appeals to the generosity of those in charge, asking them to pay attention to the suffering of soldiers who depend "on a wife who is a street hawker", in order to eat, "in such a rich Angola." It also draws comparison between the veterans' plight and the government's regional military ambitions in which "even soldiers and police in neighbouring countries are helped by the Angolan government and we are still waiting for the promise of what is owed to us." The veterans ask: "Did we fight on the wrong side?"
In addition to José Fernandes de Barros, the manifesto was also signed by Sergeants Vicente Ferreira, João Bondo and Castro Candeeiro, and soldiers Benjamin Francisco, Mateus Muquito and Henriques Fula. They also signed a letter to the Luanda Provincial Government on February 1, 2012, giving notice of their intention to hold a protest march. Major Henriques Teixeira, and the soldiers Manuel João and Vicente Ferreira also joined the other men in signing the letter.
In the march notice letter, the collective of former FAPLA sergeants and soldiers who make up the Claims Committee, as well as other groups of demobilised soldiers, are jointly responsible for the demonstrations that took place on June 7 and 20 this year, for the payment of grants and pensions owed by the army, in many cases 20 years in arrears.
José Fernandes de Barros joined the army in 1983 and in his last posting served in the Landing and Assault Battalion of the Fourth Military Region, commanded by generals Armando da Cruz Neto and then by Eusébio Teixeira, who today are respectively the provincial governors of Benguela and Kuando-Kubango. Barros ended active service after being wounded in the battle of Munhango, Bié province, in 1987, against the Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola (FALA), the army of the then rebel movement UNITA.
After the interrogation, the Military Police processed the payment of a once-off pension of 55,000 kwanzas to José Fernandes de Barros, gave him the money and submitted him to further interrogation.
"They made me denounce general Silva Mateus publicly as the person behind the protests. They also demanded that I take responsibility for the demonstration on June 20, at the Signals Regiment, where there were about 5,000 men," he said.
"I told them that I have nothing to do with general Silva Mateus and I acknowledge that I am one of the members of the Sergeants' and Soldiers' Claims Committee," Barros said. "Then they put me in jail, with my money".
Barros is the latest former soldier to be arrested after demonstrations this month in Luanda. Another 51 former soldiers have been arrested.