Nuno Dala: A Spirit Unbowed

Nuno Álvaro Dala, one of the imprisoned Angolan dissidents, has been on hunger strike for the past 31 days.   So far that’s one day for each of his 31 years of age and almost as many as the number of years that José Eduardo dos Santos has ruled over Angola (37, come September).  In another five days, Nuno Dala will overtake his fellow prisoner Luaty Beirão’s record hunger strike of last year.

Nuno Dala’s courage is admirable.  He is not refusing food because he wishes to be set free.  In some respects he is already free.  He still has free will – and however brutal or stupid the regime’s behaviour towards him, by his self-denial he shows he is undefeated.

Nuno Dala stopped eating because those who serve José Eduardo dos Santos’s mindlessly brutal regime have denied him the means to provide for his ten-month-old baby daughter, his wife Raquel and his siblings by confiscating and retaining his credit cards and other possessions.

Over nearly four decades, Angola’s ruling MPLA party and its President have constructed an edifice of power based on foundations of violence, corruption and blackmail, to oppress and dehumanise their fellow Angolans.

Yet neither violence nor blackmail have proved capable of bending the spirit of Nuno Dala and his fellow dissidents: Domingos da Cruz, Nito Alves, Luaty Beirão, Laurinda Gouveia, Rosa Conde, Osvaldo Caholo, Inocêncio de Brito, Arante Kivuvu, Albano Bingobingo, José Hata, Fernando Tomás “Nicola Radical”, Benedito Jeremias, Hitler Jessy Chiconde, Nelson Dibango, Afonso Matias “Mbanza Hamza” and Sedrick de Carvalho.

Between them, this group has already spent more than 100 days on hunger strike.  Even though they are incarcerated and mistreated, they retain their dignity by insisting on their right to intellectual freedom.

José Eduardo dos Santos, his party, police, judges and executioners have tried to blackmail Nuno Dala into submission by denying his family access to his meagre income and resources, thus denying them the means with which to buy milk for his little baby daughter.  They are the worst kind of human beings.  They may wear the finest tailored suits and adopt high-faluting manners but underneath they remain nothing more than inhumane barbarians.

Perhaps the Dos Santos regime is feeling cocky, because as stated by their itinerant spokesman Ambassador Luvualu, “There has been no demonstration, no uprising…”   In truth, the masses are not out on the streets in protest.

I imagine Nuno Dala spending his solitary, hungry hours wondering at the lack of more demonstrations of solidarity.   Could it be that the Angolan people have been flattened by the decades of war?  Not just the civil war, but a secret war that is both silent and more devastating, resulting in the countless dead flowing from the morgues of the capital city into its overflowing cemeteries.

Day by day, the mounting death toll in Angola is greater than the casualty toll from some of the world’s most violent conflicts in places like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.  Angolans are not dying for a cause, they’re dying needlessly, silently.  So why don’t they rise up en masse?

One possible explanation is that the Angolan people don’t have the wherewithal to defend themselves against their own government and president.  This is how it has been for the past nearly 40 years: amorphous individuals, scrabbling for survival in hostile circumstances, disorientated and weakened beyond the point where they might coalesce into a mass movement for the common good.

Additionally, for most of their lives Angolans have lived in a country where individual responsibility was not just discouraged but criminalised.  Angolans were coerced into defending their party and their president with such loyalty conveying the illusion that support for their party and president was the same thing as defending Angola itself.   The life of an individual Angolan had no value compared to the survival of their native land.

Today, few Angolans have any idea of what constitutes the State or what it is meant to do for them.  Hence, no matter how many people die from a lack of basic medical care, they remain reluctant to blame the party in power, or the President who presides over the government.

Instead, some Angolans blame the doctors, or the nurses, or even the security guards at the under-funded hospitals.  They go so far as to blame themselves for not having the funds to bribe the health workers to save their nearest and dearest. At every level of society, people feel a shared guilt, except those who are truly to blame.

Is it hopeless to expect solidarity from such browbeaten people?  Does it take a sophisticated education to learn solidarity and the true meaning of sovereignty? To defend one’s homeland over and above any political party, no matter who the President may be?

Our own parents, siblings, cousins, uncles, aunts and neighbours discourage us from taking action.  Fear of the consequences has been implanted over decades, creating allies who place obstacles in the path of political activism.   The Angolan people lost their way a long time ago.

That is why, amid an abyss of ingrained despair, the example of courage shown by Nuno Dala, Domingos da Cruz, Osvaldo Caholo and the 14 other brave souls currently languishing in inhumane conditions, gives a glimmer of hope.  A healthy society needs people like them.   More than words, their acts of self-sacrifice and their unquenchable thirst for freedom of expression, can inspire others.

They are the symbol of a new concept of civic and social leadership, which does not bow to the party-political, sectarian, boss culture which desires power but has no vision for how to use it for the common good.

The 17 jailed dissidents somehow found within themselves a freedom of thought that led them to develop a collective conscience.  They have an idea of what a State should be.  They broke with the tradition of silence and in doing so, put their lives on the line.  Are we really going to let the President’s men destroy the very type of educated, thoughtful Angolan needed for a future in which the State is the servant of the people, rather than the reverse.

Nuno Dala, my brother, you are a leader and I stand with you.  Your courage is an inspiration.  You have my solidarity, my admiration.  And I will fight for your rights and mine.