Angolans sink back towards year zero

AS SHE prepared lunch for her extended family of 16, Maria Sasfates stood in a patio surrounded by piles of rubble left by two 500lb bombs that had fallen out of the sky one morning, and said: 'We will stay here forever.'

Somehow her apartment block and snack bar on 1 May Avenue survived the bombing raid by Russian-built jets last September, but the buildings on either side were flattened. One of the bombs hit exactly where her parents had been sitting until 30 minutes before the attack, when they went inside to play cards. 'We think it was a miracle that nothing happened to them,' she said.

Ms Sasfates, 22, was serving soup to customers when the warplanes roared overhead. 'We were used to it, so when we heard the sound of the MiG we ran and hid.' None of her family was hurt, but one pedestrian and an elderly shoemaker were killed in the raid.

The attack near Ms Sasfates' home was part of the last round of air raids carried out by President Jose Eduardo dos Santos' government against the central highlands city of Huambo, stronghold of the rebel leader Jonas Savimbi's National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita) movement. That is, the last until yesterday morning, when the jets returned to drop at least six bombs on the city.

The renewed bombing raids came as serious fighting erupted at the weekend in the government-held city of Cuito, about 120 miles east of Huambo. They are expected to disrupt international aid efforts to help feed thousands of starving people in the central highlands, home of the staunchly pro-Unita Ovimbundu people, Angola's biggest ethnic group.

Also in jeopardy are the UN- brokered peace negotiations between Unita and President dos Santos' Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) government that have been going on for the past three months in the Zambian capital, Lusaka. They are aimed at ending a civil war that the UN has called the world's worst conflict. Fighting resumed after an 18-month ceasefire when Mr Savimbi refused to accept defeat in September 1992 elections.

Unita forces captured Huambo in March 1993 after a 55-day siege that left much of the town in ruins and smashed the local economy. Fading grafitti on bullet-riddled walls promise Unita supporters 'a new future', but for the 300,000 residents of this once picturesque city, known to the Portuguese colonists as New Lisbon, it has been a nightmare journey back to zero.

The international oil embargo on Unita-controlled territory has left the streets empty of all but a few cars, mostly owned by Unita officials, the Catholic church and a handful of international aid agencies. Urban salary-earners have been devastated, moving from modest lifestyles to the brink of starvation in just a year.

Elizabeth Casilva, 42, lived comfortably with her husband Antonio, a mechanic, and six children in the lower-class neighbourhood of Bom Pastor until the war for Huambo started. Then Mr Casilva's workplace was destroyed in the fighting and they soon exhausted their savings. Last November Mr Casilva and several of the children began to suffer severe malnutrition and Mrs Casilva went to the market to sell off household goods and clothes to buy food. By Christmas there was nothing left to sell, and the youngest child, Erickson, 4, was starving.

'Each morning I made a bit of fuba (maize meal) and stirred it in the water to give it to the children,' Mrs Casilva said. 'I gathered whatever I could find in the house, a chair or a shirt, and went to the market to see if I could sell it for some maize. Usually for a nice shirt I could get one kilo of maize.'

For the past month, Mrs Casilva has taken Erickson to a Save the Children Fund feeding centre. Gone are his distended belly and red hair, and the scabs are fading away.

'It would be a great pleasure if this war would stop. No one understands why the fighting continues,' said Mrs Casilva, thereby echoing a cynicism widespread in Huambo and other Angolan cities, whether government or rebel-controlled. It is a cynicism fostered by a government that bombs its own cities and by an opposition movement willing to sacrifice thousands of civilians to pursue its leader's thirst for power.

(Map omitted)

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

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
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