Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court Defends Land-Grabbing

A request for the acquisition of several thousand hectares of land in Kwanza-Sul province, in the name of the chief justice of the Angolan Constitutional Court, Rui Ferreira, has raised suspicions of illegal practice. In the documents, the judge appears as the representative of a private company.

This is the story.

On the remains of the crumbling wall of an overgrown colonial house, someone has written: “Welcome [poster printed with a photograph of President dos Santos] to Lonhe.” The commune, part of the Quibala municipality in Kwanza-Sul province, is a place where time has stood still for its inhabitants. The polite message on the wall is much appreciated by top Angolan public officials.

According to documents obtained by Maka Angola, Chief Justice Rui Ferreira and two of his children have been fast-tracked in the process of acquiring a total of 24,812 hectares of land in Lonhe. The area is three times the size of Manhattan, in New York City, and 26 times the size of the new Kilamba housing development in Luanda. Kwanza Sul province is 55,660 square kilometres in size.

In an application dated December 4, 2012, a company named Fazenda Ulunga S.A. and represented by Rui Ferreira requested 9,767 hectares at Anhara do Calungo in the Lonhe area, to the relevant authorities. The request was submitted to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Afonso Pedro Canga and to the Kwanza Sul provincial governor, Eusébio de Brito Teixeira, among others.

On the very same day, Rui Ferreira’s son, Nilson Roberto Manita Ferreira, 27, followed the same procedure for the possession of 7,299 hectares at Anhara do Tchilesso. This involved a contiguous property, Northwest, with the land requested by Fazenda Ulunga S.A. The judge’s younger son, Rui Miguel Manita Ferreira, 26, also put in a request for the possession of 7,646 hectares in the Caumbundo area, contiguous, with the land requested by his father Rui and his brother Nilson. South of both.

On 21 March 2013, Fazenda Ulunga S.A., represented “by Mr Rui Constantino da Cruz Ferreira” wrote again to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Afonso Pedro Canga. He mentioned the need to “acquire the right to the surface” of the 9,767 hectares. He asked the minister “to authorize  the issuance of the necessary documentation [for the purchase].”

Minister Canga responded favourably to the three requests and had them fast-tracked for acquisition, according to trustworthy information obtained by Maka Angola.

Maka Angola recently visited Fazenda Ulunga. Beside the road, next to the first of the labourers’ houses, is a boulder on which “Fazenda RF” (Farm RF – Rui Ferreira) has been painted in huge white letters.

In the new area being developed, amid dense forest, stood the camper-van belonging to “boss Rui”, as his employees call him. With an awning to create a veranda, the van has a rustic view over a lake where cattle come to drink. Alongside the van there is a shed of zinc sheeting, which is used to store equipment. Below this shed are three tents for the workers who are on the site.

The chief justice explains

According to the lawyer Albano Pedro, “a magistrate is prohibited from performing any other public or private functions, other than teaching and academic research in the area of law”. According to Albano Pedro, “Article 179 (5) of the Constitution is clear. A magistrate shall not be the representative of a commercial concern that is doing business with the state, nor request property from the state for business ends or for personal enrichment”.

But, in Angola, many are above the Constitution.

The meeting room next to the office of the chief justice of the Constitutional Court, in the Palace of Justice, is freezing. One of his officials adjusts the temperature and opens the window to let some warmth in. A few minutes later, Rui Ferriera, politely and directly, explains the situation to Maka Angola.

He begins by pointing out that for the past ten years his family has owned a farm of about 2,000 hectares in Waku Kungo municipality, also in Kwanza Sul province. It is called “Sete Quintas” and he says it is now too small for his ventures in cattle rearing and cereal production.

“My manager [at Sete Quintas farm] came to the conclusion that the area is too small and suggested that I set up a joint-venture with other people to acquire more land,” he explains.

Regarding the requests made in his name as a representative of Fazenda Ulunga, Rui Ferreira justifies that “it was my manager who prepared the case” for that farm. According to his disclosure, “instructions have already been given to correct the situation, because as a judge I am not allowed to take on other functions.”

Ferreira says that “there is not yet a formal request” to acquire the right to use the land.

“I will not be the claimant in an official application for land from the government or from the minister. I confirm that there is indeed an intention to acquire this land, but it was not I who put it forward,” he says.

“When I became aware that there were applications in my name, I asked for the situation to be corrected,” Ferreira emphasises.

He spoke of his plans as a farmer. “I have an interest in those areas [land at Lonhe]. I am working with other people and I want to expand.” He is currently in the process of replacing cattle imported from Brazil with other breeds imported from Namibia and South Africa, owing to problems with the Brazilian Nelore breed. He says he has already acquired a considerable piece of land from an application made to Mr Pedro, the former owner of a small extension of Fazenda Ulunga, and that “another is under negotiation”.

He also speaks of his benevolent side. “We made a big timber bridge [to give access to his and other farms] paid for from my pocket, and the road [from Sanga to the main town of Waku Kungo municipality] was fixed because of our intervention.” According to Ferreira, the provincial governor has already made plans for the same road to be tarred soon.

Speaking to Maka Angola on condition of anonymity, another magistrate argues that “an objection can be lodged against the case [land acquisition by chief justice Rui Ferreira].”

“But then the judge [Ferreira] could formalize it [by other means. Someone who can’t get in through the door will get in through the window,” the judge adds sarcastically.

The provincial representative of the opposition party CASA-CE in Kwanza Sul, Domingos Francisco Sobral, says that the granting of more than 24,000 hectares of land to a father and two sons is beyond exaggeration.

“We know the Lonhe area well and we have noted the expropriation of land from thousands of peasants who have always lived in that area from several generations ago. The peasants no longer have their own land to grow food for their own subsistence,” Sobral says.

“This situation could create conflicts within a few years as the majority are excluded. It’s important that we look into this situation.

“Today every leader, including the President of the Republic, has a farm in Kwanza-Sul. There are some who even have four or five,” he adds.

Investigations by Maka Angola have identified more than 300,000 hectares of land owned by senior Angolan government officials and their families in Kwanza Sul province alone.

Sobral recalls a famous poem by the first president of Angola, Agostinho Neto which states that “today Africa is like a motionless body, and every carrion vulture is anxious to tear out a piece of that body.”

“Kwanza-Sul is the province where every carrion vulture [top public officials] comes to tear out a piece of that land”, Sobral says.