The Woman who ‘Invaded’ Military Barracks in Benguela

The Army Military Academy in Lobito municipality, Benguela province, is investigating Maria Alexandra de Vitória Pereira, a 48-year-old Angolan citizen who is accused of having invaded the academy’s premises on 22 December. Maria Alexandra is the daughter of the late MPLA parliamentarian Carlos Alberto de Vitória Pereira Mac-Mahon. She in turn has laid a complaint against the academy, saying she was beaten and subjected to racial abuse there.

The case began with a parked car. Ms Pereira stopped her car in the street near the academy’s wall about 10 pm to attend to her seven-year-old daughter Ashanti, who was crying. She was on the way back from a dinner, accompanied by José Patrocínio, a civic activist and the director of the NGO Omunga. Some soldiers surrounded the driver, demanding that she remove the vehicle immediately. Ms Pereira says she asked for the soldiers’ understanding, and asked them to let her calm her child.

The soldiers responded by detaining José Patrocínio and took him inside the unit. When Ms Pereira protested at the detention of her friend, four soldiers began insulting her, saying “white trash” and “where do you think you are, white woman?” She was then dragged into the military base where she says she was lashed all over her body with a whip, while her daughter looked on and screaming in horror. The child remained in the car, which stood with its engine still running.

While this was going on, the Military Academy phoned the police to inform them of the detention of the “bearded man” who had “insulted the government”, José Patrocínio told Maka Angola. He added that the police, who know him very well from his activist role, were enthusiastic about the possibility of beating him then and there. “The commander of the First Police Division, Bernabé, defended me and said he found no reason to justify my detention,” Mr Patrocínio said. The commander later offered him a lift home.

Meanwhile Ms Pereira reacted to the beating she had received. She bit the arm of one of the soldiers who was holding her, kicked another soldier in his genitals, climbed over the relatively low wall around the unit and went to comfort her daughter. She says she sounded the car hooter to call for help, but no one came.

She then took her daughter home and returned to the base to identify the soldiers who had beaten her, intending to lay a complaint. When they refused to give her any information, she took out her iPhone and tried to photograph their faces. They responded by pointing their guns at her “with death threats” and confiscated her phone, which is still in the possession of the commander of the academy.

Ms Pereira laid a complaint with the Provincial Criminal Investigation Directorate on 28 December. Through persistence she managed to get an audience with the military prosecutor of the Southern Naval Base, José Manuel, to whom she addressed another complaint.

The Army Military Academy in turn informed her by word of mouth that a case was being processed against her for “invading the military unit”. Ms Pereira and Mr Patrocínio have made clear that the unit never showed them any document related to the case.

Ms Pereira decided to lay a complaint with the military police. She had already tried to do so with the representatives of the military base. According to her, the duty officer, a sergeant, not only refused to identify himself, but also showed his complicity with the soldiers who had attacked her by refusing to acknowledge the event had taken place.

Ms Pereira expressed anger at this attitude, which she believes was a matter of trying to turn the soldiers from aggressors into victims.

“They think they can intimidate me this way. I am only demanding justice,” Ms Pereira said. She called on military commanders to take responsibility for the civic education of their soldiers and to teach them to respect citizens’ rights and to act in a spirit of peace, not as if  “the country were still at war”.

Maka Angola has been trying without success to contact the press liaison office of the Army Military Academy, which is led by Lieutenant-General António José de Sousa Queirós.