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Socialismes en Afrique

 | 
Françoise Blum
, 
Héloïse Kiriakou
, 
Martin Mourre
, 
et al.

Deuxième partie : socialismes en actes. 1 : socialisme des ville, socialismes des champs

Capturing Poder Popular: Governance and Control in Early Socialist Luanda, 1975–c. 1979

Claudia Gastrow

Texte intégral

  • 1 The three movements had been at odds with each other since the 1960s, driven by ethnic, elite, regi (...)
  • 2 Due to the war and the difficulties of conducting research on post-independence in Angola, detailed (...)

1On the 11 November 1975, Angola declared independence from Portugal. Infamously, the newly independent country found itself in the midst of a civil war. Three liberation movements, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), and the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA), vied with each other for control over the country.1 The MPLA, which had successfully managed to drive the other two movements out of the colonial capital, Luanda, soon began to implement socialist-orientated reforms in its spheres of influence. It nationalized large swathes of housing, industry and farmland, introduced mass organizations for youth, children, and women, and ultimately declared itself a Marxist-Leninist worker’s party at its congress in December 1977. For the next fifteen years, MPLA Angola was run as a Marxist one-party state.2 Due to the war, however, control over territory was highly uneven, and the MPLA’s presence in rural areas tenuous. It was therefore in urban centers, and particularly Luanda, that the MPLA had the greatest opportunity to realize its ambitions, evident in social and economic policies that shaped urban residents’ lives.

2Despite the MPLA’s policies, scholars have been quick to point out that Angola’s socialism was at times a reluctant one. Private ownership of property was still allowed, and the parallel market was more significant for everyday survival than the state’s planned economy (Dos Santos 1990; Morice 1985; Tvedten 1997; Wolfers, Bergerol 1983). In those areas where socialist reforms were undertaken, state institutions were often unable to implement them effectively or act against people who flouted them. In addition, Angolan socialism was accompanied by growing inequality and corruption. By the 1980s, socialism had departed substantively from the internationally circulating ideologies that the MPLA claimed to embody. On the ground, it had become a system of social, political, and economic inequality centered on the ruling party. At the upper echelons of society, access to privileges, currency, and goods were contingent on relationships to key individuals in the presidency and the MPLA, while at the lower levels, the population scrounged for survival in Luanda’s extensive informal economy, often relying on those closer to power to access favors (Messiant 1992). What emerged was a society paradoxically both highly reliant on, but also in many ways abandoned by, the socialist state.

  • 3 A clear exception to this is Christine Messiant’s work, which generally moved between macro-analysi (...)

3The key to understanding the above paradox lies in unpicking the contradictions, strengths, and fragilities of state and party institutions on the ground. Much scholarly effort has been dedicated to understanding the workings of the socialist and post-socialist state at its upper echelons in the form of clientelism, patronage, the presidency, and a focus on political elites (Hodges 2004; Soares de Oliveira 2015).3 Less work, however, has been directed at studying the local institutions and organizations that were the most immediate connection to “the state” for ordinary Angolans who lived on the peripheries of the party system, benefiting little from the oil flows. However, in a context in which formal institutions were crumbling (or in the process of being created), it is these local organizations that were of central significance to the lives of ordinary citizens. While macro-scale policies such as the implementation of a planned economy placed considerable limits on quotidian individual and institutional possibilities, they were never realized in the manner envisioned, and were constantly undone by unofficial practices such as trade on the parallel market. Institutions and policies were revealed as far more incoherent in practice than on paper. To actually understand the workings of political power in socialist-era Luanda and the processes through which most urban residents experienced MPLA rule, it is necessary to move away from the centers of power towards the everyday.

4This chapter addresses this need to focus on everyday political institutions, by examining the rise, fall and cooption of unofficial governance organizations in Luanda during the early socialist period (1975–c. 1980). These organizations were part of poder popular (people’s power), a term used to describe grassroots organizations that had arisen during the liberation struggle in Luanda’s slum areas and which in the early years of independence became the pragmatic interlocutors between the emerging MPLA state and ordinary Angolans. The chapter investigates how housing distribution and maintenance were imbricated in the rise of grassroots governance structures in the city. It argues that the capture and transformation of these institutions by the upper echelons of the MPLA, following the events of May 1977, was indicative of how the shift to a far more authoritarian political system transformed local level political institutions. Drawing mostly on articles published in the state newspaper, the Jornal de Angola, in the 1970s, the chapter focuses on two periods, firstly, the first two years of independence and the role of the People’s Neighborhood Commissions (Comissões Populares de Bairro/ CPBs) in distributing property and exercising other state-like functions. Secondly, it looks at the period immediately following the attempted uprising against Agostinho Neto’s government in May 1977. It argues that the introduction of residents’ committees (comissões de moradores), justified by the government as a necessary response to urban breakdown, was in fact a means of undermining the CPBs, whose existence the upper echelons of the MPLA were uncomfortable with. A technical language of urban hygiene and repair thereby became a means of attempting to capture political mobilization at the grassroots. Given that a melded version of these two institutions, still referred to as residents’ committees, continues to exert influence in most of Luanda’s neighborhoods (Croese 2015; Meneses et al. 2012), the chapter suggests that more research into local governance is needed in Angola to develop a better understanding of the historical workings of the state, and the long-lasting legacies of socialism on quotidian practices of political mobilization, contestation, and incorporation.

People’s power 1975–May 1977: housing occupation and the Comissões Populares de Bairro

  • 4 See Moorman (2008) for a detailed account of life in Luanda’s musseques during the late colonial pe (...)

5During the chaos leading up to November 1975, Luanda’s housing became one of the most iconic symbols of Angolans’ claims to independence. The city had historically been perceived as racially and materially segregated into two zones, the musseques and the cidade. The term “cidade” generally referred to the formally planned colonial urban core largely inhabited by white settlers, while “musseque” was a reference to areas of informally built constructions often lacking basic services and largely inhabited by black Angolans.4 Musseque residents had experienced a pattern of constant forced removals during Luanda’s growth, as their neighborhoods were demolished to make way for new officially planned urban areas (Pepetela 1990). Independence halted this trend and provided an opportunity for Angolans to reclaim their dignity through occupying quality housing.

  • 5 See Tomás (2011) for a detailed account of instances of the occupation of homes in Luanda.
  • 6 The transitional government was put in place by January 1975 Alvor Accords and included representat (...)
  • 7 In May 1975 the Transitional Government passed Decree-Law No. 38/75 of 10 May 1975. This allowed it (...)
  • 8 I have used pseudonyms for all names.
  • 9 José. Cazenga, 12 July 2011.
  • 10 Mais Velho João. Cazenga, 12 July 2011.
  • 11 Walter. Cazenga, 26 September 2011.
  • 12 Junta de Habitação.
  • 13 “As casas da junta não são vendáveis,” Província de Angola, 17 June 1975: 2.
  • 14 Dona Lili. Kinaxixe, 20 March 2012.

6Fearing the growing violence, and what life in an independent Angola might herald for them, approximately 340,000 settlers fled to Portugal, Brazil, and South Africa leaving their empty residences behind (Hodges 2004). The abandoned houses, however, did not stand empty for long. Through personal connections, luck, and at times, bravado, Angolans began to occupy the housing in the colonial core, staking a claim to belonging in the city from which they had for so long been excluded. The routes to occupation were many,5 and reveal the inability of the transitional government6 and later the fledgling MPLA-state to control actions on the ground.7 While some people simply invaded property, personal networks played an important role in distribution. José,8 who lived in a wooden house in Cazenga, a working-class industrial zone of Luanda, explained that as independence neared, a friend had offered him the keys to a council house in a different part of the area. The friend had briefly occupied it but was abandoning it to move into an apartment he had identified in the more desirable city center. José accepted the keys and remains in the council house to this day.9 Similarly, in many cases, settlers handed over the keys to their properties to employees.10 Some settlers left with the notion of coming back, but others left for good and formally transferred ownership. At times, property and belongings changed hands through sale. Walter, a primary school teacher, purchased his home in Cazenga from a Portuguese man for 20,000 escudos with the furniture included.11 In theory, this should not have been allowed as the house was owned by the colonial state. However, such sales were so ubiquitous, that the Housing Board,12 the colonial institution in charge of state-owned housing, published alerts in the daily paper requesting that people stop selling the Board’s houses.13 In other cases, people simply invaded housing. Dona Lili, who had worked as an assistant in a dental practice, told me that her aunt occupied a house that had already been abandoned and had offered her a room. A few days later the owner returned, begging them to pay him for the furniture so that he would have something to take back with him to Portugal. She claimed that they bargained over the price, but eventually paid him something.14

7In the midst of this seeming turmoil, the MPLA needed to reestablish state functions in order to cement is popular legitimacy. The decolonization process, in combination with the open conflict that accompanied independence, had led to the virtual collapse of most state institutions. Although people took advantage of this disorder, legitimacy nevertheless rested on the ability to offer some evidence of the capacity to run a state (Pearce 2015). With their institutional presence in rural areas still patchy, the MPLA focused on its strongholds—mostly Angola’s coastal urban centers (Pearce 2015). Luanda was not only the center of MPLA support, but, as the former colonial capital, had powerful symbolic purchase. It was here then that the MPLA was most able to implement its socialist vision, and also here where the incoherencies and contestations over that vision would play out.

  • 15 Dar Al-Handasah, 1996, “Technical Paper 6: Urban Land Use and Environmental Assessment,” 1.4, Devel (...)
  • 16 Brigada de Intervenção de Realojamento.
  • 17 Former Angolan civil servant. Alvalade, 9 February 2012.
  • 18 Diário de República, I Series, No. 52, Law 3/76 of 3 March 1976.
  • 19 Abandonment was classified as the owner having been absent from the country for more than 45 days f (...)
  • 20 Diário de República, I Series, No 144, Law 43/76 of 19 June 1976.
  • 21 Again, subject to the same definition of 45 days of absence as that for Law 3/76.
  • 22 The laws determining the rents of Luanda’s state-owned residential properties were: Diário de Repúb (...)
  • 23 “Regulamentado o pagamento das rendas de apartamento,” Jornal de Angola, 15 July 1979: 1.

8One of the MPLA’s first significant policy actions was to nationalize the city’s formal housing stock and bring an end to what the Jornal de Angola described as the “anarchic” occupation of housing. By late 1975, people were not only occupying residential buildings, but offices and schools as well.15 In response, the MPLA established the Rehousing Intervention Brigade (BIR)16 tasked with registering abandoned housing, collecting the keys of these properties, and distributing them to needy people.17 By mid-1976, it had passed two laws to facilitate the state’s control over urban property. The first, passed in March 1976, was Law 3/76,18 which allowed for the expropriation of goods, companies, and properties that had been abandoned or belonged to a persona non grata.19 The second, known as the Confiscation Law,20 specifically focused on real estate, allowing the state to confiscate, without a right to compensation, any property whose owner has been absent from the country for more than 45 days.21 In 1978 and 1979, the state also established set rents.22 Although rents were set according to numbers of rooms belonging to a property, the legislation also stipulated that rent could not in theory exceed twenty percent of a household’s income, enabling people who had occupied large properties (which they otherwise would not be able to afford) to remain in them.23 These laws should in theory have established a system of cheap public housing for Angolans. However, in practice, nationalization and housing distribution were not so straight forward. Aspirations that existed on paper could not necessarily be exercised effectively on the ground. The ad hoc occupation of buildings continued as a key site of contention between the state and the citizenry, one in which local institutions of governance increasingly intervened.

“Governance is something which evolved”: the CPBs and urban governance

  • 24 Sources equivocate between naming this institution the National Institute for Housing (Instituto Na (...)
  • 25 Diário de República, I Series, No. 29, Law 1/76 of 5 February 1976.
  • 26 Diário de República, I Series, No. 130, Decree 45/76 of 3 July 1975.

9While properties did make their way to “o Povo” (the people), this rarely appeared to be in the way envisaged by official structures. The very processes of occupation and distribution revealed the uneven capacity of the post-independence state. The distribution of abandoned properties did not wait on the BIR or its replacement the National Institute for Housing (INH).24 Rather, much of the monitoring and registration of formal housing was already being undertaken by the People’s Neighborhood Commissions (CPBs). The CPBs were MPLA-aligned neighborhood committees that arose during the liberation struggle along with myriads of other grassroots organizations associated with poder popular (people’s power), which included civil defense organizations and student groups (Mabeko-Tali 2001). While generally made up of MPLA supporters, they were not formally controlled by the MPLA, creating the conditions for considerable tensions when they at times differed from MPLA structures in their understandings of what politics should be pursued in the post-independence era. The MPLA tried to manage this, by, in 1976, formalizing the CPBs’ status through the Law on People’s Power.25 This defined them as the smallest unit of planned, democratically elected organs of poder popular that would communicate the will of the people to the upper echelons of the government (Croese 2015). This attempt to manage them was further concretized through the passing of Decree 45/76 in the same year, which formalized the electoral process for CPBs, tightly tying candidacy to MPLA loyalty. Only MPLA Action Committees or the mass organizations linked to the MPLA were allowed to put forward candidates.26 Nevertheless, subsequent events suggest that the CPBs were not so easily coopted.

  • 27 See for example, “A vida nos bairros: Santa Barbara,” Jornal de Angola, 4 October 1975: 3; “A vida (...)
  • 28 Former Angolan civil servant. Alvalade, 9 February 2012.
  • 29 “Defendida a política de ocupação de casas: comunicado conjunto dos ministerrios da administração i (...)
  • 30 “Prossegue em bom ritmo a construção de moradias,” Jornal de Angola, 30 December 1977: 1, 9.
  • 31 “Ocupação de habitações na cidade de Luanda,” Jornal de Angola, 16 April 1978: 2, 6.

10The CPBs became the most immediate experience of the MPLA-state in many neighborhoods. They acted as the first port of call for residents in search of dispute resolution or assistance, as well as being in charge of tasks such as political education and the mobilization of neighborhood residents to clean the area (Meneses et al. 2012). This central role was evident in relation to the housing question, with many of them quickly taking charge of abandoned properties in their respective neighborhoods. On a daily basis, CPBs published announcements in the Jornal de Angola, for meetings in which owners of abandoned properties as well as people who had “illegally occupied” housing were expected to participate.27 Owners were warned that if they did not appear, their houses would be distributed in accordance with the needs of the neighborhood. These distributions were often undertaken without the knowledge of the BIR or INH.28 Although the Ministry of Internal Administration issued a statement explaining that it was “forbidden” to occupy abandoned houses without the consent of both the BIR and the relevant CPB,29 people continued to occupy either without permission or without consulting the BIR. Some CPBs were even thought to be collecting rent.30 The CPBs often called on residents to legalize their situation, although if that simply meant registering with the local CPB or actually with the BIR/INH was unclear. Nevertheless, the CPBs enjoyed considerable power on an everyday level with people being told that they could not move house without receiving permission from a CPB in the form of “Guia da Transferencia” (Transfer Pass) and water and electricity companies being forbidden from cutting people off without the permission of the relevant CPB.31

  • 32 Nito. Cazenga, 5 July 2011.
  • 33 Toni. Cazenga, 2 September 2011.
  • 34 Toni. Cazenga, 2 September 2011.

11CPBs not only appeared to be more active than the BIR in the cidade, they were also one of the most significant institutions in Luanda’s musseques. The colonial state had only a tenuous presence in many of these areas, a trend which continued into the postcolonial moment with the state administration having either a very weak presence or sometimes almost no presence at all. In such cases, it was the CPBs who not only distributed housing, but also land to those who hoped to build their own homes. The central government railed against what it referred to as “clandestine construction” to describe unofficial housing construction, but, given the absence of any significant low-cost housing policies and the unmet demand for housing, it was inevitable that people would begin to build their own homes. In areas where CPBs were present, they often managed land occupations, either selling the land themselves or approving sales.32 Given the lack of any formal land registration system, existing residents or members of CPBs acted as witnesses to transactions or gave testimonies in the case of conflicts.33 In some cases, however, people simply occupied land and built, waiting for state institutions to catch up with them. In the words of one of my interlocutors, “governance is something which evolved.”34

  • 35 Former Angolan civil servant. Alvalade, 9 February 2012.
  • 36 Former Angolan civil servant. Alvalade, 9 February 2012, and Tomás (2014).
  • 37 “Prossegue em bom ritmo a construção de moradias,” Jornal de Angola, 30 December 1977: 9.
  • 38 “Prossegue em bom ritmo a construção de moradias,” Jornal de Angola, 30 December 1977: 9.
  • 39 Former Angolan civil servant. Alvalade, 9 February 2012.

12This seeming “informal” governance by the CPBs should, however, be understood to be the norm rather than the exception. If some CPBs were unofficially selling land and collecting rents, the BIR and later INH did not appear to be doing much better. Political and personal connections increasingly played a significant role in housing distribution. A former civil servant admitted to me that when requests were made from people whose origin was outside Luanda, the BIR would assign them housing in less desirable areas as they assumed the person would not know the difference.35 High-up members of the MPLA were sometimes provided with more than one residence.36 As it became ever harder to access housing, accusations were made that only those with “friends” were able to be officially granted housing. The INH was simply unable to keep up with demand, especially in the face of on-going ad-hoc occupations. In an interview in December 1977, the head of the INH stated that 12,000 requests for housing had been filed just that year, but there were simply not enough houses to go around.37 This was partially because priority was being given to international volunteers (cooperantes), members of the state, and diplomats, but also, he argued, because evicting people was difficult. The previous distribution system had involved someone occupying a residence and then legalizing it afterwards.38 This had led to clashes between multiple claimants and people occupying houses that the state considered too big for them. Despite these clashes and the fact that the state often found itself unable to collect rent, eviction was considered politically undesirable.39 It was evident that occupying first and trying to deal with the legality of it later still remained the most effective means of accessing housing.

  • 40 The exact nature of this uprising is extremely contested to this day and a clear account of what to (...)

13If the CPBs constituted the most immediate experience of urban governance, it was one that would soon be shut down. On 27 May 1977, an uprising led by the suspended former Minister of Interior, Nito Alves, was crushed by Cuban troops defending Agostinho Neto’s government.40 The uprising had its roots in longstanding tensions within the MPLA regarding the direction of the post-independence state. It is generally accepted that Alves not only believed that the MPLA was straying from a more orthodox Marxism, but that the majority Black population was being excluded from the benefits of independence as the racial and socio-economic hierarchies of the colonial period continued to be viewed as relatively unchanged.

  • 41 Nito Alves’s followers were referred to as nitistas.
  • 42 The dispatch used to formally dissolve them was: Diário de República, I Series, No. 128, Dispatch 2 (...)

14Alves was not only an incredibly charismatic and popular leader, but, as Minister of Interior had been centrally involved in the mobilization of poder popular and the workings of the CPBs in the capital’s musseques. Although he had initially been central to rooting out ideological opposition to the MPLA, he subsequently capitalized on the fact that many CPBs continued to act as spaces for more autonomous thinking (Somerville 1986) and encouraged critical discussions about race and inequality within them. These discussions addressed frustrations among the urban poor, leading to disaffection with the existing state of affairs in Luanda. Many of Luanda’s CPBs, had, therefore, been supportive of Alves’s uprising, and now found themselves the objects of the MPLA’s revenge and paranoia. Shortly after the uprising, the MPLA-government dissolved Luanda’s CPBs as a response to their suspected nitista41 tendencies (Croese 2015).42 The promise of a socialism rooted in poder popular was cut short.

  • 43 For information about rectification see Wolfers and Bergerol (1983) and Somerville (1986).

15Most scholars view the period following the 27 May 1977 as the moment when the possibility for broad-based popular socialism was extinguished and the MPLA remade itself as a distant and authoritarian vanguard party. At its First Congress in December 1977, the MPLA formally adopted Marxist-Leninism as its official ideology. The state was to be subordinated to the party. Following this, the MPLA began a process of “rectification”43 to purge the country of nitistas. This process involved the reconstitution of Luanda’s CPBs in a much weakened and far less independent state (Croese 2015). Thousands are suspected of having been killed during the purges that followed 27 May, and the political power of grassroots organizations was subsequently significantly curtailed. This politics was iterated, I argue, in the rise of a new, parallel institution of urban governance, the comissões de moradores (residents’ committees), which, although initially working in tandem with the CPBs, ultimately either absorbed them or usurped their positions, in the process showing the on the ground transformation from poder popular to vanguard state.

Capturing the local, imposing the vanguard state (May 1977–c. 1979): maintenance and the comissões de moradores

  • 44 “Comissões de Moradores,” Jornal de Angola, 8 November 1977: 3.
  • 45 “Comissões de Moradores despertam interesse,” Jornal de Angola, 20 November 1977: 3.
  • 46 Junta Nacional de Habitação.
  • 47 “Escrevem os Leitores: Os Comissões de Moradores,” Jornal de Angola, 13 December 1977: 3.

16On the 8 November 1977, just a few months following the nitista uprising, the Jornal de Angola ran an opinion piece entitled “Comissões de Moradores.”44 The article argued that residents of the buildings in the city center needed to take more responsibility for caring for the buildings that they occupied, and recommended the formation of residents’ committees to promote cleanliness and monitor the buildings for maintenance purposes. Suggesting that the conservation of buildings was the responsibility of residents rather than the state, it argued that it therefore, “was not fair to demand that state structures, burdened with innumerous difficulties, especially of a human nature, also concern themselves with problems that residents can and should resolve themselves.” Two days later, the paper printed an article claiming that the idea of residents committees had generated much interest and suggested that the question of residents committees should be taken further, that they could be an integral part of existing neighborhood organizations, including the CPBs and MPLA committees.45 This was further emphasized when a letter to the paper in mid-December suggested that the National Housing Board (JNH)46 was enthusiastic about the idea and was trying to create an official regulation about residents’ committees that would outline their relationships to other organs of the MPLA and poder popular.47

  • 48 “No arranha-ceus do Marçal: Cento e vinte famílias habitam sem condições de alojamento,” Jornal de (...)
  • 49 Empresa Provincial de Conservação de Imóveis – Unidade Económica Estatal. EMPROCI was created on 5  (...)
  • 50 “Registo: Os deveres elementares de habitação,” Jornal de Angola, 25 August 1977: 3.
  • 51 “Habitação: Respeitar as normas de hygiene é defender a saúde de todos!” Jornal de Angola, 8 April (...)
  • 52 “A Câmara de Luanda,” Jornal de Angola, 13 May 1976.

17The immediate reason presented for creating residents’ committees was the urgent need for institutions that could ensure the maintenance and cleanliness of buildings and neighborhoods. Although initially the urban housing question had focused primarily on distribution, by early 1977 an increasing concern with urban breakdown was manifesting itself in the Jornal de Angola. Independence had led to the flight of most construction companies and technicians with the skills to undertake necessary maintenance (Greger 1990). This left the new MPLA government not only lacking the means to construct new housing, but to conserve the existing stock. Some of the reports about the fate of buildings were harrowing. The Jornal de Angola published articles reporting on buildings where plumbing was completely blocked, sewerage spilt into the building or surrounding roads, water seeped from the walls, and elevators had long ceased working. In one particularly shocking case, it reported on a ten-story building where, in order to counteract the smell of blocked drains, the residents had cemented up their toilets. Having not had water or electricity for two years, they fetched water in buckets from a public standpipe eighty meters from the building, carrying it up the stairs as the elevator was defunct.48 While partially acknowledging responsibility for the situation, seen in the formation of EMPROCI (Provincial Company for the Conservation of Buildings)49 in 1979, a state company tasked with performing maintenance on state-owned buildings in Luanda, the MPLA-state generally cast the problem of upkeep as one of civic failure. It argued that the population lacked knowledge of how to live in “modern” buildings, and the civic conscience to care for them.50 Numerous efforts were made in the paper to conscientize the population about “appropriate” urban living, which even included public shaming in which the Jornal de Angola went and photographed buildings in which residents were infracting what it, as the state’s mouthpiece, considered to be good comportment.51 Through these efforts, the state tried to remind people that, “the city belongs to us and will be that which we will be: a type of mirror of the collective comportment of those who live in it.”52

  • 53 “Entrevista com o Ministro de Construção e Habitação: Prevêmos um crescimento médio de 40% em relaç (...)
  • 54 During much of the socialist period, Luanda was administratively divided into 20 zones. Although th (...)
  • 55 “Comissões de Moradores e BPV apresentados na Zona 11,” Jornal de Angola, 27 May 1979: 2.
  • 56 As just a small sample, see for example, “Comissões de Moradores,” Jornal de Angola, 31 May 1979: 2 (...)

18With the state lacking capacity to maintain and monitor buildings, the residents’ committees were initially posited as a solution to breakdown. In 1978, the Minister of Construction and Housing announced that a regulation would be passed to accompany a planned housing law, which would make it obligatory to form residents’ committees in order to ensure that there was a “disciplined” use of buildings.53 A year later, the MPLA began to establish residents’ committees across the city. Symbolically, on the 27 May 1979, two years after the attempted uprising that had led to the dissolution of the city’s previously independent CPBs, the National Director of the Central Committee for the Institute of People’s Power, Zeferino Estevão, in the presence of the Coordinator of the CPB for the area and the heads of department of the Institute for People’s Power, presented the residents’ committees for Zone 1154 of Luanda to the inhabitants of the relevant neighborhoods.55 This was the first of a number of events held over the next year during which party structures held public meetings to present residents’ committees to their respective zones.56 In 1981, when Luanda Province was divided off from Bengo Province (which was newly formed), and internally rearranged into nine municipalities rather than twenty zones, the accompanying legislation explicitly mentioned the need for residents’ committees in all the municipalities as a key link between the urban population and formal government structures, a role that had been exercised by the CPBs, which had not yet disappeared and still continued to exist alongside the residents’ committees (Meneses et al. 2012). Robson (2001) claims that residents’ committees were subsequently established across the city in 1983. However, given the confusion in much of the existing literature, which either equates the CPBs with residents’ committees, or assumes the CPBs straightforwardly transformed into residents’ committees, it is unclear to which grouping he is referring. While some work on residents’ committees argues that they emerged from the CPBs (Croese 2015, Meneses et al. 2012), the archival record suggests this to be inaccurate. Residents’ committees were initially introduced by the MPLA alongside the “recitified” CPBs. The difficulty in the currently existing literature in distinguishing between the organizations, or knowing clearly when they might have melded into one another, has rendered tracking the fall of the CPBs and their replacement by residents’ committees extremely difficult.

  • 57 “Comissões de Moradores e BPV apresentados na Zona 11,” Jornal de Angola, 27 May 1979: 2.

19While many of the two organizations’ tasks appear to have overlapped, there were substantial differences in the ways in which residents’ committees were formed in comparison to the emergence of the pre-1977 CPBs. Unlike the relatively spontaneous formation of the CPBs, residents’ committees were planned creations. Despite the fact that the original opinion piece on them had suggested that they would be democratically elected by residents, their implementation suggested otherwise. This top-down creation is suggested not only by the fact that they were “introduced’ by high-up party members to their respective neighborhoods, but that their formation, a Jornal de Angola article revealed, had been discussed at the First Extraordinary Meeting of the Central Committee, which had aimed to implant reconstituted institutions of people’s power in the city’s neighborhoods in the wake of May 1977.57

  • 58 Residents’ committees were in some instances provided with lists of the legal prices of goods in th (...)
  • 59 “O povo deve começar a participar nas decisões e orientações,” Jornal de Angola, 2 August 1979: 2.

20The official grounds for residents’ committees’ formation embraced a technical discourse in which their purpose was framed as disciplining populations rather than representing them. As shown above, amid the growing concern with the state of the city’s built environment, state representatives had claimed that residents’ committees were necessary to maintain the cleanliness of buildings. However, the actual role of the committees was not confined to buildings. They took on zone and neighborhood structures, implying a mandate far beyond the original idea mooted in the Jornal de Angola. Subsequent articles suggest that their tasks had expanded to include enforcing that people paid rent, preventing speculation on prices in neighborhood markets,58 ensuring that there was rubbish collection, monitoring that inhabitants of buildings and neighborhoods abided by the rules of the MPLA and the government, and collecting information on who lived in neighborhoods, their activities, and their occupations.59

  • 60 Ingombota, the Baixa, Casuno, Carmo, Coquiros, and the Cidade Alta.
  • 61 “Orgãos do poder popular na Ingombotas e Maianga,” Jornal de Angola, 15 July 1979: 2.
  • 62 “Os melhors elementos constituirão as comissões de bairro,” Jornal de Angola, 19 July 1979: 2.

21In many ways, it appears that the residents’ committees were introduced as a move to infiltrate and weaken the CPBs, even though these had already been substantially remade in the wake of purges and rectification. The 1977 December MPLA Congress had resolved that poder popular had to be refashioned in order for the party to exercise greater control over it (Somerville 1986: 108). This political impetus behind the formation of residents’ committees was revealed in a speech by Bernardo da Sousa, Secretary of the Central Committee’s Institute for People’s Power, who, when introducing the residents’ committees for Zone 6 neighborhoods,60 commented that there was a need to pay close attention to the formation of residents’ committees as the country did not want a repetition of the 1977 People’s Power.61 This was further cemented in a speech from him a few days later when he stated that, in the future, members of CPBs would be selected from and coordinated by people who were members of residents’ committees.62 Thus, the growing centralization and authoritarianism of the MPLA at the higher levels of the state spilled over into local levels of governance.

Conclusion: socialist legacies of governance

22In 1992, the new Constitution did not mention CPBs or for that matter residents’ committees. Existing literature does not mention the CPBs in that period and so it remains unclear whether they had already fallen into disuse or were simply dissolved at that point. What is clear is that residents’ committees continued, but had no official legal status, acting as unofficial governance units that reported neighborhood information up to communal administrative structures, assisted in dispute resolution, and in mundane administrative tasks such as registering land and providing proofs of residence. What little research exists about the period of the 1990s suggests that many residents’ committees became defunct or very distanced from their neighborhoods, but were periodically reinvigorated by provincial structures when the tasks they were presumed to fulfil, namely monitoring neighborhoods and implanting MPLA-state policies on the ground, were required (Croese 2015; Robson 2001; Robson and Roque 2001).

  • 63 See also Tomás (2014) for an account of the reinvigoration of a residents’ committee in a building (...)
  • 64 Following the 2017 Angolan national election, Bornito de Sousa was made Angola’s vice-president.
  • 65 “Lei da Comissão de Moradores vai ajudar a resolver os problemas das communidades, segundo Bornito (...)

23With the end of Angola’s civil war in 2002, however, there appears to have been a resurgence of residents’ committees in the city’s musseques. Some of this was driven by urban residents themselves, especially in response to post-conflict housing demolitions and evictions in Luanda, as people formed residents’ committees as conduits to make claims upon administrative structures and institutions for compensation or rehousing.63 However, provincial administrative structures and the national government have also begun to once again actively encourage the formation of residents’ committees (Croese 2015). In recent years, the MPLA has proposed legislation to formalize the existence of residents’ committees as a means of, according to Bornito de Sousa, then Minister of Territorial Administration64, contributing to “consolidating participatory governance, helping to resolve community problems.”65 While much analysis of the post-conflict era has focused on the machinations of elites in managing oil flows to understand the potential threats to democratic governance, it is the management of local government that perhaps needs to be better understood. The post-conflict MPLA-state has incessantly delayed the holding of local elections that might threaten its control over Luanda. Instead, residents’ committees have been allowed to flourish, highly partisan to the MPLA and surveilling everyday life in many neighborhoods. The formalization of these structures suggests an unofficial return to the workings of the state during the one-party socialist period and represents a means for the MPLA to strengthen its grip on power through what on paper might seem the formation of innocuous organizations.

24To truly understand both the legacies of socialism and the everyday workings of the unofficial party-state in Angola, and especially Luanda, more attention needs to be paid to everyday experiences of politics and localized political institutions. As this chapter has shown, tracking changes in local governance institutions in Luanda provides insight into changing political attitudes on the ground and highlights how the specters of the one-party socialist state continue to shape the present. Of course, what must be kept in mind is that the lived experience of everyday life often departs significantly from the archival record. Many mentions of residents’ committees suggest that they collapsed, became irrelevant, or went through many years of being weak and ineffective, starved of financial and institutional support. How much they ultimately impacted local governance or the workings of mussseque neighborhoods at specific moments in time therefore needs to be further investigated. What is clear, however, is that their introduction was an important reflection of how shifts in the nature of the socialist state at the macro-level impacted everyday institutions on the ground. They are key to understanding how socialism was actually experienced by ordinary citizens and the long-term impacts of socialism on quotidian politics. Focusing on them opens up the possibility of studying politics in Angola from the ground-up, something which would shed far more light on the incoherencies, shortcomings, and everyday contradictions of the MPLA-state than exists in current literature.

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Notes

1 The three movements had been at odds with each other since the 1960s, driven by ethnic, elite, regional, and ideological differences. However, with the arrival of independence, tensions between them heightened and by early 1975 their followers were engaged in armed attacks against each other within Luanda. This fighting culminated in July 1975, when the MPLA drove the other two movements from the city. By the time independence arrived, the country was already geographically divided into different zones of influence and the stage was set for long-term armed conflict. The conflict quickly became entangled in Cold War rivalries, with each movement supported by external powers: Zaire and the US backed the FNLA, Cuba and the USSR the MPLA, and South Africa supported UNITA. This exacerbated existing and developing antagonisms and facilitated the continuance of the war for the next several decades. For more information see Marcum (1978), Messiant (2008), and Pearce (2015).

2 Due to the war and the difficulties of conducting research on post-independence in Angola, detailed scholarly work on Angola’s socialist period is relatively scarce. Nevertheless, there are some foundational pieces of work about the period. Older accounts of Angolan socialism include Somerville (1986), Wolfers and Bergerol (1983), and an interesting continued debate in 1978 to 1980 in the Review of African Political Economy about the class nature of the MPLA. Christine Messiant wrote extensively on the period, and there were various articles and chapters dedicated to Angola and the question of socialism such as Dos Santos (1990) on the informal economy and Scott (1988) on the workings of the state. Tvedten (1997) also contains important information on how the socialist state was structured. More detailed studies focused on everyday life or topics outside of the civil war or economic and macro-political policy have been relatively few. Nevertheless, they do exist. In the urban field particularly, Greger (1990) has written on urban planning. Ferreira (2002) has explored the confiscation of Portuguese businesses. More recently Hatzky (2015) has published on Cuban civilian cooperation, Birmingham (2015) dedicates two chapters of his history of Angola to the socialist period, and Collier (2012, 2016) has investigated socialist ideals in the literary and artistic realms.

3 A clear exception to this is Christine Messiant’s work, which generally moved between macro-analysis and the actual responses to these taking place between on the ground institutions and actors. See for instance Messiant (2001) for an insightful analysis of the presidency’s attempts to capture civil society.

4 See Moorman (2008) for a detailed account of life in Luanda’s musseques during the late colonial period and their significance as part of urban identification and belonging.

5 See Tomás (2011) for a detailed account of instances of the occupation of homes in Luanda.

6 The transitional government was put in place by January 1975 Alvor Accords and included representatives from UNITA, the MPLA, and the FNLA. It never functioned effectively and by July 1975 had completely collapsed.

7 In May 1975 the Transitional Government passed Decree-Law No. 38/75 of 10 May 1975. This allowed it to appropriate abandoned housing for the purposes of rehousing people who had been displaced by fighting in Luanda and the provinces. However, in practice, the Transitional Government found it incredibly difficult to enforce its control over the city.

8 I have used pseudonyms for all names.

9 José. Cazenga, 12 July 2011.

10 Mais Velho João. Cazenga, 12 July 2011.

11 Walter. Cazenga, 26 September 2011.

12 Junta de Habitação.

13 “As casas da junta não são vendáveis,” Província de Angola, 17 June 1975: 2.

14 Dona Lili. Kinaxixe, 20 March 2012.

15 Dar Al-Handasah, 1996, “Technical Paper 6: Urban Land Use and Environmental Assessment,” 1.4, Development Workshop CEDOC Archive.

16 Brigada de Intervenção de Realojamento.

17 Former Angolan civil servant. Alvalade, 9 February 2012.

18 Diário de República, I Series, No. 52, Law 3/76 of 3 March 1976.

19 Abandonment was classified as the owner having been absent from the country for more than 45 days for anything other than working on behalf of the Angolan state, or for medical or educational reasons. Persona non grata was defined as adherents of the FNLA and UNITA, or any other MPLA opponents, and previous members of the Portuguese secret police, the PIDE.

20 Diário de República, I Series, No 144, Law 43/76 of 19 June 1976.

21 Again, subject to the same definition of 45 days of absence as that for Law 3/76.

22 The laws determining the rents of Luanda’s state-owned residential properties were: Diário de República, I Series, No. 207, Executive Decree 11/78 of 1 September 1978; Diário de República, I Series, No. Group Dispatch 57/79 of 29 November 1979; and Diário de República, I Series, No. 207, executive decree 11/79 of 1 September 1979.

23 “Regulamentado o pagamento das rendas de apartamento,” Jornal de Angola, 15 July 1979: 1.

24 Sources equivocate between naming this institution the National Institute for Housing (Instituto Nacional de Habitação) or the National Housing Board (Junta Nacional de Habitação). I use whatever term is referenced in the source as it is still unclear when one replaced the other, or if the name was used in the same time period to refer to the same institution. In the 1980s the institution appears to have been dissolved and the Secretario de Estado de Habitação (State Secretariat for Housing) became the national level body in charge of much of the state-owned housing in Luanda. It is important to note that even the state ownership of property in Luanda could be chaotic with various ministries, institutions, etc. also laying claim to properties beyond the ambit of the State Secretariat for Housing.

25 Diário de República, I Series, No. 29, Law 1/76 of 5 February 1976.

26 Diário de República, I Series, No. 130, Decree 45/76 of 3 July 1975.

27 See for example, “A vida nos bairros: Santa Barbara,” Jornal de Angola, 4 October 1975: 3; “A vida nos bairros: casa devolutas no quinanga,” Jornal de Angola, 15 November 1975: 3; and “Indicações Úteis: Comissão Popular do Maculusso – Zona 8,” Jornal de Angola, 24 February 1976: 3.

28 Former Angolan civil servant. Alvalade, 9 February 2012.

29 “Defendida a política de ocupação de casas: comunicado conjunto dos ministerrios da administração interna e da defesa,” Jornal de Angola, 20 November 1975: 2.

30 “Prossegue em bom ritmo a construção de moradias,” Jornal de Angola, 30 December 1977: 1, 9.

31 “Ocupação de habitações na cidade de Luanda,” Jornal de Angola, 16 April 1978: 2, 6.

32 Nito. Cazenga, 5 July 2011.

33 Toni. Cazenga, 2 September 2011.

34 Toni. Cazenga, 2 September 2011.

35 Former Angolan civil servant. Alvalade, 9 February 2012.

36 Former Angolan civil servant. Alvalade, 9 February 2012, and Tomás (2014).

37 “Prossegue em bom ritmo a construção de moradias,” Jornal de Angola, 30 December 1977: 9.

38 “Prossegue em bom ritmo a construção de moradias,” Jornal de Angola, 30 December 1977: 9.

39 Former Angolan civil servant. Alvalade, 9 February 2012.

40 The exact nature of this uprising is extremely contested to this day and a clear account of what took place is difficult to find. Recent accounts of the day include Mateus and Mateus (2007), and Pawson (2014). For accounts more sympathetic towards the MPLA see Wolfers and Bergerol (1983).

41 Nito Alves’s followers were referred to as nitistas.

42 The dispatch used to formally dissolve them was: Diário de República, I Series, No. 128, Dispatch 26/77 of 2 June 1977.

43 For information about rectification see Wolfers and Bergerol (1983) and Somerville (1986).

44 “Comissões de Moradores,” Jornal de Angola, 8 November 1977: 3.

45 “Comissões de Moradores despertam interesse,” Jornal de Angola, 20 November 1977: 3.

46 Junta Nacional de Habitação.

47 “Escrevem os Leitores: Os Comissões de Moradores,” Jornal de Angola, 13 December 1977: 3.

48 “No arranha-ceus do Marçal: Cento e vinte famílias habitam sem condições de alojamento,” Jornal de Angola, 28 July 1979: 3.

49 Empresa Provincial de Conservação de Imóveis – Unidade Económica Estatal. EMPROCI was created on 5 October 1979 and was managed by the Provincial Delegation of the State Secretariat for Housing (see David Eduardo, “Degredação do sector habitacional é uma realidade evidente,” Jornal de Angola, 4 March 1983: 3).

50 “Registo: Os deveres elementares de habitação,” Jornal de Angola, 25 August 1977: 3.

51 “Habitação: Respeitar as normas de hygiene é defender a saúde de todos!” Jornal de Angola, 8 April 1977: 3.

52 “A Câmara de Luanda,” Jornal de Angola, 13 May 1976.

53 “Entrevista com o Ministro de Construção e Habitação: Prevêmos um crescimento médio de 40% em relação ao plano do ano passado,” Jornal de Angola, 12 April 1978: 4.

54 During much of the socialist period, Luanda was administratively divided into 20 zones. Although this is not formally true anymore, when I interviewed members of residents’ committees in older neighborhoods in 2011 and 2012, they still used these administrative borders, suggesting that they may still have been active informally.

55 “Comissões de Moradores e BPV apresentados na Zona 11,” Jornal de Angola, 27 May 1979: 2.

56 As just a small sample, see for example, “Comissões de Moradores,” Jornal de Angola, 31 May 1979: 2; “Orgão do poder popular nas Ingombotas e Maianga,” Jornal de Angola, 15 July 1979: 2.; and “Comissão de Moradores dos Massacres,” Jornal de Angola, 15 January 1980: 2.

57 “Comissões de Moradores e BPV apresentados na Zona 11,” Jornal de Angola, 27 May 1979: 2.

58 Residents’ committees were in some instances provided with lists of the legal prices of goods in the markets, and could and did report on traders who tried to sell goods for higher prices. See “Comissões de Moradores apresentadas na zona 10: Assembleia Neves Bendinha,” Jornal de Angola, 26 July 1979: 2.

59 “O povo deve começar a participar nas decisões e orientações,” Jornal de Angola, 2 August 1979: 2.

60 Ingombota, the Baixa, Casuno, Carmo, Coquiros, and the Cidade Alta.

61 “Orgãos do poder popular na Ingombotas e Maianga,” Jornal de Angola, 15 July 1979: 2.

62 “Os melhors elementos constituirão as comissões de bairro,” Jornal de Angola, 19 July 1979: 2.

63 See also Tomás (2014) for an account of the reinvigoration of a residents’ committee in a building in the city center.

64 Following the 2017 Angolan national election, Bornito de Sousa was made Angola’s vice-president.

65 “Lei da Comissão de Moradores vai ajudar a resolver os problemas das communidades, segundo Bornito de Sousa,” Novo Jornal, 20 April 2016. Published online at: http://www.novojornal.co.ao/artigo/62723/lei-da-comissao-de-moradores-vai-ajudar-a-resolver-os-problemas-das-comunidades-segundo-bornito-de-sousa [last accessed on 10 March 2017]. Kim Tchalyongo, “Angola: Nova Lei da Comissão de Moradores gere controvérsia,” Voice of America, 24 April 2016. Published online at: http://www.voaportugues.com/a/angola-lei-comissao-de-moradores/3300510.html [last accessed 10 March 2017].

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