Despite Angola’s vast natural wealth, survival for most of its people has become a nightmare, as the following article shows.

By Santos Virgilio

May 2000

‘The cost of living in Luanda is unbearable. People can hardly keep themselves alive. That they do is a mystery that not even God can understand!’ says Luisa Rogerio, 30, a journalist from the Jornal de Angola, the only daily paper in Angola.

‘It is impossible to live worse than we do. The paradox of being a rich country while most of the population lives in extreme poverty and with no real prospects of improvement defines our abysmal future,’ Luisa says.

The minimum salary in Angola for a cleaner is ten million Kuanzas (just over US$2) a month. This is not enough to provide for a meal for a family of six: a litre of cooking oil costs at least US$1, a kilo of flour costs at least one million Kzr, a pile of fish (scales are not used) costs about six million Kzr, and meat is more expensive.

So, what is the salary for? ‘It is just a symbolic gesture...’ says Adriano Fonseca, 33, a medical doctor at the Hospital Josina Machel, the biggest in the country. With his salary he can only go once to the informal market. ‘And it finishes right there. It is not even worth talking of supermarkets because the prices are very high for what we earn.’

Luisa says that in the past she was able to buy books and send postcards to her friends, but ‘today I can only buy two tins of milk for my daughter, a bottle of butane gas and nothing else’. Besides food, Luisa needs to buy water in containers because there is no piped water in her residential area.

The salary of a national director in a ministry is about US$30 a month, while an ordinary flat in Luanda costs at least US$400 a month and the rent must be paid in hard currency.

To get an appointment at a private health clinic, a minimum of US$600 is demanded, from which the cost of treatment is deducted, not including medicines. Research done shows that no clinic carries out surgery, regardless of complexity, without a minimum deposit of US$2,000.

Access to education is also difficult owing to the increased urban population caused by the rural exodus, as a consequence of the war. To be admitted to a government secondary school, where education is free, parents have to pay a ‘gasosa’ of at least US$500. At the university, the ‘gasosa’ is about US$1,000.

Private schools have high fees, averaging US$100 a term for primary education. Then the parents still have to buy uniforms, school materials and lunch for the children, and these are all expensive.

‘On the other end of the scale, there are elite people living very very well.. a small minority! There are people living in luxury,’ says sociologist Joao Ferreira, 38. This is a consequence of the poor distribution of incomes in the country, he says. ‘There are people living above their incomes, who in normal conditions would never have that living standard.’

Luisa says, ‘None of my colleagues in any SADC country is worried about bread, milk or water. They have other concerns, while we have this daily worry about the basics for life.’

With people earning such low salaries, there is a lot of absenteeism, and corruption in the public service. There is a popular saying: ‘The goat eats around the area where it is chained,’ meaning that payments are demanded for all sorts of public services rendered.

Prostitution exists at various levels and is of various types. It is not legalised, but in practice ‘it is as if it was legal’, says Ferreira. He is extremely concerned about child sex workers, because every day he sees young girls ‘being used by well-positioned people’.

Every day the number of people in bad living conditions increases, leading children to look in the streets for ways of surviving, begging, rendering small services, in order to guarantee not just theirs but their families’ survival.

Statistics published by the National Institute for the Child showed that in 1997 there were 10,000 children in the streets of the main cities. This number has increased considerably owing to the worsening of the war situation and the displacement of about two million people by the war. Fonseca defines the three aspects - drugs, sex work and streets kids - as being ‘the mirror of the Angolan society’s decadence’. - Third World Network Features


About the writer: Santos Virgilio  reports for Africa Information Afrique (AIA). The above article first appeared in African Agenda (Vol 3 No. 2, March/April 2000).