With some 5,000 families in Angola’s Lubango, Matala and Quipungo municipalities affected by housing demolitions since August, struggles continue to get the government to respect both legislation and its own public statements, writes Sylvia Croese.
Demolitions in Lubango, the capital of the south-western province of Huíla in Angola, have resumed again last week. So far, the demolitions have affected over 3,000 families in March (Lubango municipality) and another estimated 1,800 (Matala and Quipungo municipality) in August, totalling almost 5,000 families in the space of seven months. Reports from the local NGO Action Constructing Communities (ACC) indicate that this time 1,557 houses in Lubango were identified by the provincial government for demolition, contrary to the 320 houses previously earmarked in the last week of August. It is expected that the actual number of houses demolished will be even higher.
The demolitions have been taking place in the Lucrécia, Laureanos and Patrice Lumumba quarters, which are located along the Mukufi river. According to ACC, the possibility of the river overflowing has been presented as a risk by the provincial government, thereby justifying the demolitions. However, rumours indicate that private interests with links to the provincial government are at play as there is talk about the possible construction of high-cost luxury compounds along the river.
Many residents were taken by surprise when the demolitions effectively started on 29 September, as they hadn’t received a previous warning about the exact date on which their homes were to be demolished. A heavy police presence contributed to a climate of intimidation.
On 29 September members from ACC and a Portuguese architect had to suspend their participatory housing design work with members of the community of Tchavola, the area to which the first victims of the demolitions in March have been relocated to, after they were taken to the local police station to explain their presence and activities. The following day, three journalists travelled to Lubango from the capital Luanda to report on the demolitions but had their equipment confiscated by the local police.
No further action has been taken by the police in relation to any of the apprehended people and the journalists’ equipment was returned after some time. However, the events are typical of the current political and security climate, taking grip of Lubango and the country in general. During the month of September a journalist of the private radio station Rádio Despertar was found dead in his home with a bullet in his back and two other journalists were subject to violent attacks. No statements have been made with regard to a formal investigation on the cases despite calls of the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Angolan Syndicate for Journalists to this effect.
So far, neither central nor provincial government has spoken out publicly on the events in Lubango. As the demolitions continue, by now more than six months have passed since the first evicted families were relocated to Tchavola, but basic conditions are not yet in place. Local organisations have helped the community to organise themselves and start articulating their needs and demands. Over 3,000 families divided over 18 blocks in the area still have to share 3 waterholes, which forces many people to resort to artisanal wells with water which is not appropriate for consumption. There is still no school or proper medical post. Government efforts to install electricity or a sanitary network have not been witnessed so far and there has been no government support for the construction of new houses.
A letter was sent by the Residents Commission of Tchavola in August to the provincial governor Isaac dos Anjos, with copies to a range of other government entities including the president of the republic. In the letter, the residents request the government’s technical and material support to facilitate the construction of houses, especially for low-income families and the vulnerable. Instead, provincial government has imposed a map for which residents have to pay 2.400 Kz (approximately US$25), which specifies how they should build their houses. None of the residents were consulted when making this map and as such it does not reflect their needs, let alone means.
The lack of proper communication and response to the Tchavola case by the government and the lack of mechanisms to enable participation and dialogue with its citizens presents a gloomy outlook for the families affected by the most recent demolitions. They are being relocated to Tchimukwa, an area about 15km outside Lubango city, even further than Tchavola, and in a similar poor state in terms of basic infrastructural conditions.
At this moment, two other quarters, Kamazingo and Comercial, reportedly remain on the list of areas where houses are to be demolished. These quarters are not located in high-risk areas, further bolstering rumours related to interests linked to the construction of private luxury real estate projects.
NGOs such as OMUNGA have tried to hold the government accountable to respect existing legislation as well as its own public statements on housing. In 2008, the government promised to build 1 million houses throughout the country over the following four years. The right to decent housing and quality of life is enshrined in the country’s new constitution (art. 85), which was adopted in February. The 2004 law that regulates territorial and urban planning includes provisions on just compensation (art. 20) and the right to information and participation (art. 21). Last year, the National Assembly also approved and adopted a resolution which highlights these provisions with regard to demolitions, stating that ‘demolitions should be accompanied by the creation of basic and acceptable conditions to rehouse the affected citizens and by the creation of a dialogue and the involvement of these citizens in the housing solutions’.
However, it seems that the initial concern manifested by central government after the first demolitions in Lubango this year, delivered in the form of a formal apology on behalf of the president by the minister of the administration of the territory to the victims of the demolitions during a field visit, has subsided. On World Habitat Day last Monday 4 October, the same minister continued to emphasise that basic necessities for the people such as electricity, water and technical services should be secured in the implementation of the country’s housing programme. This kind of discourse, although important, becomes void in light of the unfolding events in Lubango. In the meantime, the country’s president seems to be more preoccupied with reshuffling the government. As for the National Assembly, this institute has been operating in limbo since its functions were temporarily suspended last August while it awaits a new law to regulate its supervisory functions as a legislative body in relation to the executive power.
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