Family of Former Angolan President at War

The controversial former President of Angola, José Eduardo dos Santos, is reportedly close to death at the private Teknon clinic in Barcelona[1] while family members fight over who has the right to switch off the machines keeping him alive. Amid unconfirmed reports that the 79-year-old former head of state is brain dead, the right of his wife, Ana Paula Lemos dos Santos, to take decisions as his next of kin is challenged by some of his children. His daughter, Welwitschia dos Santos, wants a full police investigation into what she alleges was “attempted homicide, criminal negligence, a failure to render assistance and a breach of medical confidentiality”.

An official statement released “on behalf of the family”, late last week, stated that the former President had suffered a cardiac and respiratory arrest after falling downstairs at his Barcelona residence. This account is disputed by Welwitschia, known as ‘Tchizé’, who has instructed a lawyer to seek an injunction to prevent her father’s wife Ana Paula and his long-term Angolan physician Dr João Afonso, from making any decision on end-of-life care.

At the heart of this dispute is who gains control of the Dos Santos family fortune, and whether he should be buried in Angola or abroad. Despite his global notoriety for having presided over a kleptocracy, Dos Santos enshrined in the 2010 Constitution immunity from prosecution for five years after stepping down to ensure he personally would not face justice for the missing billions of petrodollars. However, several of his children[2] have been caught up in his successor’s anti-corruption campaign.

His first-born, Isabel, cannot return to Angola without facing charges of illegal diversion of funds and money laundering, while the eldest of her half-brothers, José Filomeno de Sousa dos Santos, spent several months in jail, and in 2021 the Supreme Court upheld his conviction and sentenced him to five years in prison. He cannot leave Angola. Tchizé, a former member of the Angolan parliament, fled the country in 2019 claiming her life was at risk due to what she called the “political vendetta against the Dos Santos family”. She too is facing charges, having benefited from her father’s largesse to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Through her lawyer (and via social media) ‘Tchizé’ alleges that a breach of confidentiality in releasing medical information, criminal negligence resulting in unexplained injuries and a failure of duty of care in seeking timely assistance for her father, amount to an attempted homicide. “As his daughter I will never permit them to turn off the [life support] machines while my father lives, while his heart is beating normally, a heart that is in good condition. He never had a heart attack, never had a cerebrovascular accident.”[3]

It was rumoured (but never confirmed) that José Eduardo was suffering from cancer while still President. He first went to Barcelona for medical treatment in 2006. After leaving office he then arranged a permanent residence in the Catalan city and lived there from April 2019 until his return to Luanda in September 2021. While at his Miramar residence in the capital he met President Lourenço in December and again in March before deteriorating health forced a return to Barcelona.

Tchizé alleges her father lost 30 kilos in weight during the six month he spent in Luanda, leaving him frail and in a wheelchair. She argues that as Ana Paula and her father had lived apart for some years, she had forfeited her rights as a spouse. Legal experts demur, pointing out that Ana Paula remains his legitimate wife and therefore his next-of-kin. They say it is not uncommon for couples to live apart but remain married and the former President had every opportunity to repudiate her but did not.

In addition to pointing the finger at Ana Paula for abandonment and negligence which she said worsened her father’s ill-health, Tchizé is clearly also taking aim at her father’s erstwhile ally. She floats the idea that João Lourenço might have wanted Dos Santos out of the picture before this year’s elections because her father had become so disillusioned at the legal pursuit of his children that it was possible that he could have voiced support for his former battlefield enemy, UNITA. Since he left office, the cost of Dos Santos’s private medical care, his family’s personal expenses, and those of his security detail, have continued to be met by the Angolan State. President Lourenço has emphasised that paying the bills does not give the government any say in decisions regarding Dos Santos’s ongoing medical care or when it should end. This is entirely a matter for his family. But concern over Dos Santos’s condition led Lourenço to telephone Ana Paula before despatching his Foreign Minister to Spain. Téte António now has the difficult diplomatic task of reconciling the warring Dos Santos family members so that when the inevitable happens, the remains of the former President can be returned to his homeland for the state funeral to which he is entitled.

[1] The Teknon Medical Centre is part of the private hospital group Quirónsalud, which also includes the Quirón Clinic, where the former Gabonese president Omar Bongo Ondimba died in 2009

[2]Dos Santos has acknowledged eight children by four women: Isabel, his eldest, born in 1973, is the only child from his first marriage to ‘the Russian’, Tatiana Kukanova, whom he met while studying in Azerbaijan. José Filomeno was born from a liaison with Filomena Sousa. A relationship with Maria Luísa Perdigão Abrantes produced Welwitschia José (Tchizé) and her brother José Eduardo Paulino (Coreon Dú). A liaison with Maria Bernarda Gourgel “Dadinha” produced one more son: Joess before his re-marriage to presidential plane flight attendant Ana Paula Cristovão Lemos in 1992 produced Eduane Danilo, Joseane, and Eduardo Breno.

[3] AVC (Acidente Vascular Cerebral), Cerebrovascular Accident = brain haemorrhage