A lifetime of horror, squalor and pain

JOAO BINGA eyes me suspiciously through a haze of pain, hunger and malaria. Seven years old and he's already seen more than most people will in a lifetime. He sits now in a decrepit, soiled cot, in a pungent ward of the paediatric wing of Huambo's central hospital. Shocked into silence by the horrors he has lived through, it is not Joao, but his grandmother who tells me his story.

Joao used to live, with his family, in a small farming village in the fertile hills south of Huambo. In May of this year guerrillas from the Unita rebel movement attacked his village at dawn. They killed many people, and forced the rest, including Joao and his family, to abandon their homes and run for their lives. Joao's parents sought refuge in a nearby town. They set about building a makeshift shelter from sticks and grass, but before they could finish it, Unita's soldiers struck again.

Joao was shot in the right leg, his mother was hit in the stomach. "The boy's father got the two of them into a car and tried to bring them to the hospital," his grandmother explained, "But his mother died soon after they set off and they had to stop to bury her. Joao reached the hospital on 18 May."

Joao has been in the fetid hospital ever since. His grandmother has slept every night on the tiled floor beside his bed. Doctors removed the bullet from his leg and sewed up the wound, leaving a livid scar. However, they did not manage to reset the bones correctly - a simple operation with the right equipment. Joao can no longer stand on his injured leg, his foot is beginning to atrophy and it seems likely that he will be crippled for life.

In the short term, though, he has other, more serious problems. While he was in the orthopaedic ward Joao became seriously malnourished, because neither the hospital nor his grandmother have enough money to feed him properly.

This may sound like an uncommonly grim story, but tragically for Angola, it is not remarkable at all. After 25 years of civil war, life expectancy in Angola is so low - just 42 years - that over half the population is under 18.

Pick virtually any of these children, and they will have a horror story, like Joao's to relate. They have never known anything but war and instability. Their country is crumbling around them as they grow up.

The physical effects of this war on children are everywhere to be seen. More worrying though, are the invisible, psychological wounds inflicted by this protracted and brutal conflict on Angola's children, and through them, on the country's future.

"All Angolans are traumatised by the war," said Dr Carlinda Monteiro, an Ango- lan child psychologist working with the Christian Children's Fund (CCF).

"For us, war is normality. It is built into our lives. Many of our children have lost their natural sense of fear because they have lived through totally unnatural situations like shelling, which, for them, have become normal. So confrontation with violence, death, and danger no longer scare them. In order to cope they have become desensitised, which has terrible implications for the future of Angola."

CCF is the only organisation attempting to assess and address the psychological impact of the war on Angola's children. It has a mammoth task ahead.

In a survey of 200 Angolan children chosen at random, CCF found that 20 per cent had been separated from their families because of the war, 55 per cent had been internally displaced, 10 per cent had fought in the war, 42 per cent had witnessed a landmine explosion, 88 per cent had survived artillery bombing, 85 per cent had seen dead bodies and 54 per cent had witnessed torture.

"Because our children have never known anything but violence, there is a serious risk that they will grow up to be violent themselves." Dr Monteiro said. "If we cannot heal the emotional wounds, we may never break out of this cycle of violence."

Eurico Malungo, aged 13, embodies this problem. Eurico comes from Huambo, which was once Angola's grand second city, a monument to all that was best of Portuguese colonial architecture. Now Huambo is a monument to 25 years' war. Every single building is pockmarked inside and out with the scars of bullets and shrapnel.

Eurico lived through the legendary "55 days", the worst period in Huambo's history, when most of those scars were inflicted. In 1993, Unita held one half of Huambo while the government's forces held the other. For 55 days the two sides bombarded each other relentlessly. Finally the government surrendered the city to Unita.

Throughout the bombardment Eurico and his parents cowered on the floor of their house. One day a bullet came through the window and killed his father. His mother, half mad with fear and grief, walked out the door and never came back. "She just disappeared," Eurico tells me, "I never found out what happened to her." He was seven at the time.

Eurico was later taken in by a shelter for orphans in Benguela, 200 miles away on the Atlantic coast. I ask Eurico what he would say if he could send a message to Unita's veteran leader, Jonas Savimbi. "I'd tell him to come here, and stop making trouble and killing people. And if he refused I would kill him by putting him in a big pot full of boiling tar. When I grow up I want to be a soldier so I can kill Savimbi."

This from a thoughtful child who has tenderly cultivated a collection of flowering plants in Coke and beer cans since arriving in Benguela.

Eurico thinks that Angola's president of the past 20 years, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, is no better. "He just steals everything from the people and keeps it all for himself while we starve. One of them steals and the other one kills."


t Up to 200 people a day are dying as a direct result of the civil war in Angola.

About 1.7 million people have been forced by the fighting to flee their homes.

An estimated five million Angolans are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance but aid agencies are unable to reach many of them.

Unita rebels have reportedly abducted hundreds of civilians, including children, and carried out countless killings and mutilations.

Both Unita and government forces have tortured, raped and arbitrarily killed unarmed civilians and executed captured combatants.

Unita is besieging and shelling cities, causing unimaginable suffering.

Freedom of expression is severely limited; journalists critical of the Government have received death threats; some have been physically assaulted, some killed.

Amnesty International


Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before