Angola – O dia-a-dia de um embaixador
Angola – an ambassador’s daily diary
by Ambassador Antonio Pinto da France
Edicao de Livros e Revistas, Lisbon 2004
Translation by Ed Marks
From the preface
I was the third Portuguese ambassador to Angola and therefore still able to bear witness to some aspects of the early days of independence. I was destined to live a period of Angolan history that will not reoccur. It seemed to me, therefore, that as in Guinea-Bissau, I had an obligation to bear testimony to this unique period.
October 23, 1983
The day before yesterday, Friday the 21st, I went through my baptism of fire with the presentation of my credentials, my first contact with that complicated and impenetrable world which is the leadership of the MPLA.
Two Mercedes from Protocol came to take us to Futungo de Belas, 25 kilometers outside Luanda, where the President lives and where the Presidential Office is located. This secluded and somewhat mysterious world, the center of Angolan government power, is where, in a closed off world, Jose Eduardo dos Santos works.
Futungo de Belas is of recent origin. Almost at the dawn of the events that precipitated the independence of Angola, a group of rich Portuguesefrom Luanda decided to build a luxurious fishing club. For this project, they marked out a large area and, after constructing the club building, the members went on to build large, impressive houses, all in the doubtful taste common to the pretentious plutocracy of the final days of the colonial period.
The setting, seen as a whole from the road that passes on the way to the Barra do Quanza, has—to be honest—a certain grandeur. It spreads out in a gentle decline down to the quiet, glittering water of Mussolo Bay, sprinkled with small islands, with the horizon marked by the long, dark border of the island of the same name. The numerous buildings and ancient baobab trees are dispersed in a large area full of lawns, gardens, and bushes, all leading to a grove of palm trees at the edge of the sea. Seen as a whole, it is imposing and elegant.
They say that Agostinho Neto preferred to install himself in Futungo, spurning the beautiful Governor’s Palace which since the end of the 16th century had been the seat of colonial power, in order to “physically” break with the past. In any case, he obviously felt it easier to maintain better security in the open spaces of Funtungo, then in the center of the capital.
In any case, given the growing threat from UNITA, Funtungo de Belas was transformed into a veritable fortress. And also an island of order, calmness, and cleanliness outside the ravaged capital. In fact, Futungo has come to resemble a gilded cage.
A rather slovenly guard of honor was waiting for me at the entrance to the gardens. While listening to the national anthems, they scrutinized me with curious and bug-eyed looks from behind their rifles. We had already been taken to a pavilion “in order to take a piss or comb our hair”, as was explained by the Director of Protocol, a sympathetic African, “foppish” and “dandy” , who reminded me of Sammy Davis and who constantly patted my hands.
Afterwards, they took me to the former fishing club that was now the Credentials Salon. A Cape Verdean lady from Protocol, who had accompanied me up to now and had bemused me by her makeup of gaudy violet which matched the round, plastic purse which she wore on a shoulder strap, delivered me into the hands of the Director of Protocol.
I was guided from room to room. The decoration was heavy and unattractive, but the ceremony continued to unfold with a great deal of dignity.
I arrived to the room where the President was standing and waiting for me accompanied in the absence of the Minister of Foreign Affairs by the Secretary of the Central Committee, one of those numerous mestizo aristocrats named Van Dunen who are found everywhere in high ranking Angolan government circles. On one side, were lined up the ministers of Commerce and Finance, the Secretary of State for Cooperation, and, on the other side, all the secretaries of the Presidential Cabinet. As for me the nervousness, similar to that which we feel when taking an examination, that had been bothering all day had not disappeared. Then after I presented my Letters of Accreditation and recited my formal statement, and sat down with the President, the tension ceased and I became both curious and aggressive.
The President is a pure black African, tall, young, and handsome. In a monotone voice he paraded well-known themes, the usual complaints of the MPLA about UNITA’s activities in Lisbon and about the violent attacks of some members of the Portuguese press.
With deliberate firmness, I recalled these same feelings which had led to the end of fascism that we all remembered had also led to Angolan independence as well as given birth to a new order and general sensitivity to the Portuguese people with respect to questions which touch on the freedom of speech, all of which made it impossible for any interference by the Government in the public media.
I then presented various requests, whose satisfaction I noted, would constitute favorable auspices for my mission. Among them, I inserted the urgent necessity for authorization to visit the thirty or so Portuguese being held in prison for trafficking in diamonds. The President promised that my request would be taken care of.
On my behalf, I promised him that it was my intention to speak always with frankness, clarity and honesty in my interaction with Angolan authorities. Only thus could the atmosphere of suspicion, which generated constant crises between Angola and Portugal, be dissipated.
Afterwards I was introduced to the ministers who were present. The Minister of Finance, a pale and smiling white man, did not appear to be of much interest. The Minister of Commerce, a mestizo, had a small beard which gave him an oriental look. I knew him from Lesotho and he had intrigued me by his enigmatic air and his elegant pose. The Secretary of State for Cooperation is a big black African, with a lively look and stern manners. So many people to meet and win over, skillfully and carefully!
I drank a sip of champagne and returned on my steps. The palm trees of the nearby islands were outlined against the golden sky, magnificent, in the setting of the impressive African sunset. Nature was teaching me the splendor of life and the insignificance of our mundane concerns!
Luanda, July 26, 1986
The people of Luanda, like Brazilians, have an amusing capacity for linquistic creativity.
Popular new slang expressions circulate rapidly, quickly becoming fashionable. They die and new ones are born. There is a delightful whirl of constant change.
I remember that when I was first here doing my military service one of the most fashionable words was “maka”. “There is a maka there”. “Here is a maka.” “Don’t worry about that maka.” I found it strange that there we so many “makas” around, as “maca” in Portuguese means a hospital litter. It seemed to me that there were too many emergencies. Finally I figured out that “maka” could mean a fight, or a discussion, or an irritation, or maybe only a complication.
Also no-one now uses the lovely word “banga”, whose sound I found fit so well with its meaning although I am not quite sure why, as they did twenty years ago. Perhaps because the same word meant exactly the same thing in Indonesia. It could be translated freely but perhaps only the French word “panache” defines with absolute precision the sense of this Indonesian expression which was so much in vogue in Angola in the 1960s.
The world “bue” which means many, sounds to me a bit vulgar. More agreeable is the verb “bazar” which means move or move on in the sense of “jump” or “take a leap”. Or running away to avoid facing a problem. “Cambutinha” (small) and “Cota” (old) come from Quimbundo and have entered into Portuguese jargon, along with “garina” (young girl) from a more obscure origin.
Yesterday, I heard for the first time a rare coinage that seemed to me to reflect perfectly the deepest anxieties of Luandans. It is passing from mouth to mouth as if on a fuse: “Desconsequir”, building up from the Portuguese verb “conseguir” (to achieve) to express a secret and contradictory wish of not being able to succeed.
The key is that the word is applied in a positive sense. I found it difficult to get hold of a refrigerator. I found it difficult to find a job. It was a difficult year. I found it difficult to get married.
In other words, it was a sort of victory, a great relief not to have to waste time or energy, to escape obligations which is the primary aspiration of these people of Luanda so devoted to an easy life without much effort, yet living in the moment and under the agonizing threat of war and suffering. To forget, to forget!