José Agostinho Quiteque, 31, represents his family's third generation to be born in Margoso neighbourhood of Maianga district in Luanda. Nestled on the hillside between the neighbourhoods of Prenda and Bairro Azul, and Avenida Revolução de Outubro, Margoso is to be demolished to make way for a new housing development for the wealthy.
The Quiteque family has lived in the area for more than fifty years. Family patriarch Agostinho Quiteque, born in Kwanza Sul, saw the birth of his first child in Margoso in the wooden house that he built on the site now occupied by Prenda Clinic. The colonial authorities granted him another site a little lower down the hill where he built a permanent house of bricks and mortar in which he lived until he died four months ago at the age of 81. All four of his children were born in Margoso, and when they grew up and had families of their own, the site was large enough to build annexes to accommodate the entire extended family.
Agostinho Quiteque's first-born, Manuel, fathered eight children, of whom José is the eldest. José himself has three children, who are thus the fourth generation of Quiteques to live in Bairro Margoso.
Today José Agostinho Quiteque is a member of the residents' committee, which is campaigning for decent alternative housing for those who are being evicted from Margoso by a new urban redevelopment project.
On August 14, just over 100 residents, most of them women, marched down Avenida Revolução de Outubro at sunrise in a noisy but peaceful protest against the demolitions that were to have taken place on that day. High ranking government, military and police officials rushed to the scene to determine the reason for the demonstration, which continued almost until midday.
"We spent three weeks without sleeping, with the nightmare of the machines coming at night or in the early morning to demolish our homes, which is how the government works," explained Manuel Paulo, 26, a native of Margoso.
The order to demolish the first 150 houses, scheduled for August 14, was communicated to the residents by the director of the Redevelopment Project for Bairro Margoso, Baixo Prenda and Chabá, António Teixeira João. Mr. João also personally telephoned the Maianga district police commander and instructed him to provide the police apparatus for the operation, according to a senior commander, who wished not to be named. According to this commander, it is normally the commander-general of the National Police who orders police units to protect the government's forced mass evictions.
Another police officer who was present agreed to look at the photographs that the residents had taken of what the government architects call "build up houses": tiny, unfinished structures that have been built in the resettlement areas of Luanda (Zango, Viana and Panguila) as well as in some districts of Malanje province. The officer's response was "I am at a loss for words. If you protest peacefully we will not take action."
The Police Canine Brigade kept its dogs inside the cars. Even the head of Military Intelligence and Security Services (SISM), General Zé Maria, usually swift to act against demonstrators, had a different attitude this time. He chatted to a resident called Marisa, who presented him with a statement on the residents' position, copied of the eviction notices and photos of the Zango resettlement site. He then left the scene.
When the chairman of the City of Luanda Administrative Commission (CACIL), General José Tavares, heard of the protest, he went to the scene and organised a meeting with the residents. General Tavares told them that he was unaware of any government orders to demolish the houses.
The same day, CACIL's spokesman João Dombaxi told TV Zimbo that António Teixeira João did not have the authority to order the demolitions. "One may conclude that there was some misconception in that the resettlement of the population from Margoso to Zango was ordered by someone with no mandate to do so," Dombaxi said.
He added that CACIL had decided that "conditions are not in place for the people to be moved at this point because, according to the residents, there are no conditions or infrastructure for this to happen."
"The resettlement zone has no water, electricity, schools or health facilities. These government officials are inhumane, they want to get rid of us because we are poor," José Agostinho Quiteque said.
He also noted that the houses where they are to be rehoused are not habitable. The "build up" comprise two tiny spaces, one for a bedroom and one for a bathroom. "Every resident has to plaster the inside walls, make a cement floor, install a toilet in the bathroom and build a kitchen and living room," Mr. Quiteque said.
In Zango, the peri-urban zone where the Margoso residents are to be transferred to, there are already many families evicted from Luanda's Ilha neighbourhood. They have been living there for four years in improvised shanties built of corrugated sheeting and cardboard. The tents that the government gave them for shelter have disintegrated over time.
City Life for the Rich
On March 25, the governor of Luanda and the first secretary of the ruling MPLA in the province, Bento Bento, chaired a meeting on the redevelopment process in Margoso and Chabá. The Ministers of Construction and of Urban Development and Housing were among the officials present.
At the meeting, the co-ordinator of the project, Mateus Morais de Brito Júnior, told the press what was to become of Margoso and Chabá: "We are going to take down those shanties and create a classy neighbourhood, with amenities. What we are discussing now is how to evict and resettle the people who live there."
The Angolan government has given the development rights for the Margoso site to a company called Vida Urbana, for which Mateus Morais de Brito Júnior is the spokesman. Brito Júnior was previously Minister of Construction and an MPLA parliamentarian, and is now a non-executive board member of the government-run daily newspaper Jornal de Angola.
Vida Urbana was created in 2002 by lawyer Paulette Maria de Morais Lopes. In 2009 the business became a joint-stock company (sociedade anónima) under the name of Vida Urbana S.A. Its capital was increased from 450,000 kwanzas to 1.8 million kwanzas, equivalent at the time to US$20,000. Paulette Lopes obtained 80 percent of the shareholding, while her law partners Hélia Maria Bernardo Miguel, Mara Geovana Contreiras Cirilo de Sá, Djamila Sousa Pinto de Andrade and José de Carvalho Tavares each took 5 percent. George Wesley Sherrell, a U.S. citizen, is the chairman of the company's board.
How is it possible for such an unknown company, with no track record in civil construction, to secure a concession of this scale, involving the eviction of nearly 3,000 families, with no process of public tender?
George Wesley Sherrell is also on the board of another company, Kworum Capital, nominally owned by Paulette Lopes.
Kworum Capital is described on its website as a banking investment company funded by a group of international bankers and experienced managers. The company claims its main purpose is to fund commercial business and infrastructure in Angola, through partnerships with local and international banks. It also invests in businesses in southern and west Africa.
Over the next few weeks Maka Angola will investigate Vida Urbana and Kworum Capital, their relationship to those in power, and how they are able to influence the arbitrary and inhuman eviction of the residents of Margoso and Chabá.