Nobody Wants to Kiss the General
Reports of bizarre behavior by the Angolan President’s loyal henchman, General José António Maria, aged 74, have become so frequent that people are openly questioning whether the elderly security head honcho is succumbing to senility.
Already past the official retirement age, the man better known as General “Zé Maria” remains the head of the Military Intelligence and Security Service (Serviço de Inteligência e Segurança Militar, SISM) despite the concerns for his mental health.
Once again his unprofessional behavior towards female employees is causing a stir in Luanda. The General is a notorious womanizer, who propositions almost every woman he encounters. When it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace, he appears to ignore both Angolan laws and the passage of time. Have none of his senior colleagues thought to whisper in his ear that this is the 21st Century and ‘droit de seigneur’ is past its sell-by date?
The latest victims of the General’s whims contacted Maka Angola with their accounts.
Helena and Núria
Helena, aged 22, found a job with SISM’s Transport Department in 2015 and had worked there without any problems, until she was transferred to the SISM HQ in Cidade Alta, Luanda, this year (where her younger sister Núria had recently found work).
Núria, aged 19, a nursing student unfortunately caught the eye of General Zé Maria, who began to pay her more attention than any lowly employee should ever expect from the top brass. He seemed to be singling her out and the more she tried to avoid him, the more fault he found with her.
She complained to Helena, who advised her not to put up with his treatment. As the stress caused by his behavior became overwhelming, Núria decided to leave, giving as her reason the imminent internship stage of her nursing studies. Any reasonable person might assume that leaving the job would put an end to the harassment. But apparently the head of military intelligence and security could not let the matter lie.
“The boss apparently thought that she was lying to him and he sent officers to investigate at the nursing school”, says the older sister.
The officers demanded documents from the college secretary regarding Núria’s internship. General Zé Maria then tried to convince her to stay, offering to “help her out” by paying for a computer, Ipad and text books. Núria politely declined, fearing she would be compromised by accepting his offer.
Afterwards, General Zé Maria made a public fuss after the Labor Day ceremony on May 1st, demanding that all the workers join him for a bite to eat. Núria had already left for college and he singled her out by name, demanding to know why she wasn’t there and accusing her of a lack of respect for leaving “without saying goodbye to me”. He then sent officers to the college to verify that she was indeed there.
As Helena says, “Núria is very young still and it made her cry and she swore not to return to work. I also thought that was for the best. But then the General began to telephone me, threatening me that if my sister didn’t return to work, it would end up in court. So I advised her to go back and write a formal letter of resignation, even though neither of us had an official work contract from the start.”
The next day Helena reported for work as usual when she found herself surrounded by three Lieutenant Colonels (Eurico Manuel, João Paulo and Manuel Quinglês) who berated her over her sister’s resignation and told her she was being fired for giving Núria “wrong advice”.
“They told me that General Zé Maria was very annoyed with me for not giving my sister better advice and that he didn’t like people who caused ‘disorder’ and didn’t want ‘troublemakers’ working for him”, says Helena.
“I was questioned by the General’s aides, they told me I could lose my job, but then they came back and said I could keep my job on one condition: I had to bring my sister to work with me.”
Perplexed, Helena then started to receive anonymous telephone calls demanding that she bring her sister to work. She says she refused. On the following Sunday, the “Chief” rang her in person to ask if she wasn’t coming back to work. On the Monday, she received a call threatening her with legal proceedings and court questioning.
“I said that was ok, that I wasn’t afraid, and I was prepared to answer any questions in court. I am no fool. Others have been unjustly sacked too, including Telma, who lost her job over a banana peel.”
She was instructed to go into work to sign a letter of resignation and refused because she had never been issued a contract of employment. She says, I handed over my pass to the Sergeant at the sentry gate because the office of the secretary was closed already.”
Two days later, the same Sergeant appeared at her front door at 5h00 am, with orders to take her back to write a letter of resignation, and to hand a document for her to sign, which General Zé Maria allegedly drafted himself. The document was for Helena to self-incriminate herself as “crazy, unworthy of working, ungrateful, and ill-prepared to be among people, and capable of causing them harm.”
Though neither woman now works for the General, both continue to be harassed and threatened. In addition to being told they would face legal proceedings, they have received anonymous telephone calls at all hours of the day and night, and knocks on their doors in the early hours.
As further evidence of the General’s unusual and unwarranted behavior, there is another former employee’s case – that of Claudia –, and the General’s bizarre sense of entitlement. “She was feeling unwell, went to the female bathroom and was sitting on the toilet when the General came into the bathroom. She was too shocked to speak,” says Helena about her former colleague and friend.
Apparently the General thought Claudia was slacking off, and fired her while she was still sitting on the toilet.
Another of the kitchen staff who worked for General Zé Maria was 24-year-old Muenga Garcia. She was one of three women who lost their jobs on a single day in March this year.
The General had taken an interest in her, asking her about her studies and life. When he learned she was in the fourth year of Clinical Analysis, he told her would find her a more suitable position. The General called Muenga several times, asking for her papers and organizing an internship in the SISM’s own clinic for a couple of months.
“He was so full of praise for me, and even included me in the ‘honor roll’ that would run on the television in the refectory, showing my diploma with music playing in the background”, Muenga recounts. “He asked me if I had a bank account and I said no.” “The next day when I went to clear his plate, there was an envelope underneath with 50,000 kwanzas waiting for me.”
Muenga told him that no-one had ever given her money for nothing but he insisted she take it. The next day she tried to return the money, feeling uncomfortable with the unwarranted attention.
The General claimed he was too busy to receive her.
The day after that, as Muenga was replacing the fruit plate in the refectory after lunch, she apparently neglected to remove two slices of unpeeled banana. She was already in class when an urgent phone call demanded she return because there was a problem with the fruit plate.
The General and Brigadier Óscar Marques confronted her and told her a colleague had identified her as the culprit. The General then called the SISM clinic and told the supervisor that she was no good and could not work there any more. They claimed she was careless, and that she could make a mistake with a DNA test or use the same syringe twice. In their hypothetical arguments, she could endanger lives.
“I was so upset, and crying so hard, I had a nose bleed and fainted”, Muenga recalls. “They had to give me Diazepam to calm me down.”
After the incident, she was then offered a lesser position as a cleaner on a lower salary. At every turn the General would harass and humiliate her. Finally, in March this year he asked her to name a particular bone in the human hand. Nerves got the better of her and she found herself unable to speak.
He sacked her on the spot.
That same day the General also sacked two other women: Efigénia Ribeiro who was also studying nursing because she was slow to answer when he asked her to name a bone in the foot, and Conceição, who was an Economics student, because she failed to answer an impromptu math question.
Farida began working for General Zé Maria in March and was sacked in May on the spurious grounds that she didn’t know how to properly clean a floor.
Farida remembers, “from the moment I started working for SISM, the General treated me like a princess. Colleagues told me that the Chief had his eye on a newbie and that it was me.”
At first it seemed harmless – her colleagues encouraged her to “serve him his yogurt”, to put him in a good mood. She thought it was just banter – but then the situation became more sinister. He asked her for her phone number and she told him she didn’t have a phone.
“The General then summoned me and told me to go with Captain Albert to a UNITEL store to choose a mobile phone. He said he wanted the most expensive model in the store. On our way there, I told Captain Albert I didn’t understand why the General would ask me to choose a phone for him. He said I would understand later and that I’d better do as asked or he, Captain Albert, could lose his job.”
The model Captain Albert chose for her cost 180,000 kwanzas, way in excess of anything she could afford on her salary. It was meant for her, to allow the General to call her. Farida refused the gift. “Then the boss started calling. Often it would be Colonel Jorge on the line, and he’d then connect to General Zé Maria.”
But he was getting nowhere with her. “My colleagues said the Boss was disappointed in me and I could no longer serve his table in the refectory. They said I hadn’t given him my yogurt.”
Farida wasn’t surprised at her firing. “Another colleague was abruptly asked to sing Edmásia’s song “Alma Nua” [Naked Soul]. She didn’t know the lyrics and she was fired there and then. Yet another, Márcia, was let go on for not picking up the phone when the General called on her birthday.
These are just the latest complaints in a seemingly unending string of allegations regarding harassment and unfair dismissal by the General, all made by unrelated women. The aging man seems to spend extraordinary amounts of time importuning young female employees, and firing them on whim.
However hope is on the horizon – when President José Eduardo dos Santos steps down in August, senior military figures are hopeful that some of the more embarrassing figures in his regime will also be on their way out.