Forced Evictions in Samba in the Dead of Night

A group of more than 150 officers of the Luanda Provincial Government’s Auxiliary Police, supported by heavily armed members of the National Police, demolished more than 80 makeshift houses on the seashore in the Mabunda area of Samba municipality, in Luanda. Some of the demolished dwellings were storehouses for fish and fishing equipment.

At about 3.00 am on the night of May 24, the police knocked on the doors of the shacks to get the residents out, then immediately used wheel loaders to destroy the structures and everything inside them, and loaded the debris onto trucks.

Luciano Macala, a fisherman, lost eight freezers that he used to store fish, as well as fishing equipment and other items that were in his storehouse. His case is typical. On 10 April 2012, he had paid 25,520 kwanzas (US $250) in taxes, plus 8,510 kwanzas (US $85) to the Luanda Port Captaincy for this year’s first quarter of his fishing licence. The licence gives him the right to a space to ground his boat and a space to store fishing and other equipment. Despite having paid his dues for 10 years, he saw the front of his boat destroyed by one of the wheel loaders.

Maria António Pedro, 53, did not even have time to gather up her personal documents or her children’s school materials. “The Luanda Provincial Government Auxiliary Police kicked the door, and shouted at us to get out, with just the clothes we were sleeping on, and destroyed everything.” Carla Marinete was allowed only to fetch her four children. Elisabete Maria, 38, a widow, managed to rescue some important belongings such as documents and domestic utensils thanks to her six children, who carried as much as they could. The most shocking case was that of a disabled woman, Graciete de Oliveira, 27, who was allowed to take only her wheelchair and a few other belongings. “They did not even let me take the bag with my money,” she said. The police destroyed her house, her belongings, and the business that she ran selling alcoholic beverages. Graciete is unmarried, and despite her disability she is the sole breadwinner for four children aged from six to ten. “What do I do now?” she asked.

Several residents said that the Auxiliary Police had surveyed the area in February and had numbered the houses, mostly built of corrugated steel roofing sheets, supposedly with the intent of re-housing the residents. According to Luzia António, 57, “the Auxiliary Police told us the houses would be demolished before elections; they numbered our houses, asked for photocopies of our identity documents and for our phone numbers, and told us we would be moved to Zango.” Zango is an area on the south-eastern edge of Luanda and far from the sea.

The community is noticeably matriarchal, with many families dependent on widows, most of whom sell fish to make a living. The fishermen are the other part of the community, and they used storage spaces to keep fish and fishing equipment. They are licensed for this purpose by the Luanda Port Captaincy, and several of them showed documents to prove that they have paid their taxes.

The police commander in charge of the operation justified it as a way of clearing the area of “criminals who have contributed to increased crime rates in Luanda.” He then tried to detain the author of this article for trying to collect statements from the local residents. The officer reported that there was a journalist in the area, whereupon two people arrived in a luxury BMW X5 who proceeded to give him instructions. The driver happened to be the administrator of Samba municipality, Adão Malungo. When the journalist was ordered to get into the car, the local people, most of them women, began shouting and surrounded the vehicle. They demanded that if the journalist was to be detained, they must all be detained as well. The people’s aggressive stand, despite the presence of the Auxiliary Police, made it impossible for the police and the administrator to drive the journalist away.

The Mabunda forced evictions are a flagrant breach of the Constitution, which requires the state to protect its citizens as well as human dignity. According to the victims’ statements, several people were naked when ordered out of their homes, and were not allowed to return to fetch their clothes.

The Constitution guarantees a right to housing that cannot be violated without the consent of the resident or the orders of a competent authority. None of the 80 residents who spoke to this journalist had been presented with any warrants from a competent authority. They did not receive even a spoken warning before the Provincial Government and the National Police took action. Neither there was a case of crime or emergency to justify the measures taken by the authorities, constitutionally or legally.

Members of the National Police and the Auxiliary Police violently beat Salvador Sabalo who, in anger, had thrown a bottle at the wheel loader. According to eyewitnesses, more than 10 policemen kicked him and beat him with truncheons and ignored his family’s pleas for mercy. Sabalo was then detained. The Constitution forbids torture and cruel, degrading and inhumane treatment, but these officers, whose superiors had granted them arbitrary powers, ignored the law.

“The police struck me in the face just because I was looking at my house as they demolished it,” António Bumba said.

Fish vendor Julieta Pedro, also a victim of the forced evictions, asked: “Do we have to be happy about the government doing this? When they act like this, don’t the people become unhappy?”

The person ultimately responsible for the before-dawn operation is the governor of Luanda, Bento Bento. He is also the first secretary of the ruling MPLA party in the province, and should be held accountable for having authorized the raid in breach of the Constitution. Similarly, the provincial commander of the National Police, Commissioner Elizabeth Rank Frank, is responsible for the deployment of members of the police force to carry out such an unconstitutional act.