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  • Paul Rhys

Luanda's stadium of vanity


The day's experience is summed up as a petrol tanker pulls into the oil refinery on an industrial estate beneath the cliffs of Luanda's giant Boavista slum.

As the driver slows for the gate to be opened, a boy of about 12 runs up with a bucket, wrenches open a tap on the lorry's flank and takes a precious few seconds worth of gushing petrol before sprinting away again.

It's not a job, exactly. But the contents sloshing in the bucket are worth more than many people will earn in Angola today.

People in musseques like Boavista see very little return from the 1.8 million barrels of oil produced by the southwest African country every 24 hours, with the World Bank estimating that two-thirds of the population earn less than $2 in that time.

Many will make more in the roaring trade in stolen petrol taking place on the streets. Orange gourds stand ready to be sold at double price to customers not willing to sit for hours in one of Luanda's gas station queues.

Yet Angola has a shiny face this month.

The government has spent $1 billion in bringing football's Africa Cup of Nations to the country for the first time as it capitalises on the post-civil war boom years.

And the people love it.

When we visited Angola's training ground, dozens of children paused from their play in a giant rubbish heap in the lee of one of the stands to chase the players' bus as it entered the car park, singing out their heroes' names.

Angola has the highest infant mortality rate in the world, according to the CIA Factbook, with more than 180 deaths per 1,000 live births.

The life expectancy for boys is just over 37 years. Only Swaziland's is worse.

These figures tally with the squalor that is everywhere in Luanda. But they bear no relation to the joy of these lads at the simple glance of a footballer giving a small wave as he listens to his ipod on a bus.

Earlier we visited another slum, Petrango.

Here some older boys were playing a competitive football match in a dusty alley with the words "Estadio Tiravadade" written in blue spray can on one breezeblock wall.

"Stadium of vanity," explained one player. "Because you lose yours when you step on the pitch."

Petrango can afford some vanity in that it is slightly nicer here than in Boavista.

In both places you see more smiles than frowns, despite the mucky streams flowing through the streets, bearing prevalent diseases like typhoid fever and hepatitis A to go with the malaria and the sleeping sickness.

With adjustments for poverty, normal life is like anywhere else. Shoppers browse at a street market.

Neighbours chat to each other over the fence. Funeral mourners sing as a body is prepared for burial.

A few miles drive away in a mall, an Angola replica shirt is being sold by Puma for 11,000 kwanzas, or $120.

The obvious question is why more money from oil does not reach these people.

The obvious answer is that money always stays at the top, whether you're in Luanda or London.

One billion dollars may seem a lot for a football tournament.

But even here in Petrango it is not being seen as money badly spent.

"Things are improving for the good of the country," says Simao Afonso, 25, one of the Estadio Tiravidade players who teaches English to local children.

"People say this money should be spent in social areas because we have so much poverty.

"But the Cup is to show foreign people that we can do things nice even though we have had times of war.

"It is for the pride of the Angolan people. It is how we show ourselves patriotic to each other and the right Angolan face to the world ."


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© 2020 By Paul Rhys

 paul@wildnorsemedia.com