More than 500 demobilised soldiers of the former People's Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola (FAPLA) gathered today in the João de Almeida neighborhood of Lubango in Huíla province, for a protest march calling for the payment of pensions that have been owed to them for 20 years.
FAPLA was the army of the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and upon independence in 1975 became the armed forces of the one-party state. They were incorporated into the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) in 1992 in the context of the Bicesse Peace Agreements.
The Angolan Independent Forum for War Demobilised (FIDEGA) was responsible for the initiative. According to its chairman, lieutenant-colonel Manuel Nunes, FIDEGA decided at the last minute to cancel the march after briefing his colleagues about the meeting he had had the previous day with the commander of the Southern Military Region.
"Yesterday afternoon lieutenant-colonel Tchiloya met our leadership and promised that the Payments Commission would come from Luanda to Lubango in July to process the demobilised soldiers' payments," Nunes said. Tchiloya is the second-in-command of the Southern Military Regional Command.
"In order to give the authorities another chance, we therefore decided to cancel the demonstration," Nunes said.
However, a significant group of demobilised soldiers disagreed with this decision and have promised to march on July 13. Nunes told Maka Angola that "it was very difficult to convince the colleagues not to demonstrate. I was considered a traitor for telling them about this decision."
He promised that there will be a march on August 3, four weeks before the elections, if the Defence Ministry and the Chief of the General Staff do not pay the outstanding pensions.
Each former soldier is owed a compensation of 55,000 kwanzas (US $550), according to the scheme set up by the Military Commission for the Payments to Demobilized Soldiers of the ex-FAPLA. The said commission has yet to clarify if the compensation for each veteran is a once-off payment or a regular pension, after 20 years of waiting. Even if it is a onetime payment (which will certainly generate more controversy among the war veterans), the amount owed to the 5,000 members of FIDEGA alone corresponds to a total payout of US$2.75 million.
Nunes said that in Huíla alone, his association is responsible for 5,000 out of a total of 16,000 former FAPLA soldiers spread throughout the province, who have been waiting, some for more than 20 years, for their pensions to be paid. In Benguela province there are 18,000 former soldiers in the same situation, according to army figures.
At the beginning of this month FIDEGA sent a letter to the Commander in Chief of the Angolan Armed Forces, president José Eduardo dos Santos, in which it proposed a plan for professional training for former soldiers. "The idea is to ensure that war veterans can create their own jobs and income without depending on the state any more," Nunes said.
"We are also trying to advise the Commander-in-Chief about abuses of power within the army and the illicit enrichment of many officers. He has to know about this. The protest of the war veterans, which is growing, is a consequence of these abuses," he added.