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Angola-woman-and-childrenWoman and children in one of the small rural villages outside of Menongue, southern Angola. Photo: Dominique Roberts

By Dominique Roberts, Safeworld Student Writer, September 2012

Dominique Roberts travelled from her home in South Africa to Menongue in southern Angola, on the east coast of Africa.

The seventh largest country in Africa, Angola is recovering from over 30 years of civil war.

Angola has a population of about 19.6 million people and borders DR Congo and Zambia to the west, Congo to the north, and Namibia to the south. It is ranked as 148 out of 187 countries on the Human Development Index. The nation is attempting to grow in all aspects, despite the many odds it has faced.

The Remnants of Civil War

Angola-villageOne of the many villages in rural Angola. Photo: Dominique RobertsThe history of Angola is a sordid one. It has witnessed decades of intense civil war from 1975 - 2002, in which it has claimed approximately 1.5 million lives, as well as leaving many people displaced. Not only did this affect Angolans living in Angola, but the wars have also caused approximately half a million Portuguese people living and working in Angola to flee the country. This affected the country greatly, as the Portuguese population had largely accounted for the vast majority of skilled work, including public administration, agriculture, industries, as well as trade.

The civil war left Angola in a state of economic bankruptcy, from which it is still recovering.



Angola-land-minesRed and white poles marking that the area behind them are still landmine areas

Millions of landmines are still littered over farmlands, roads and even in residential areas. Every year, land mine injuries account for 20 percent of operations that are performed within the entire country. The mortality rate caused by land mine injuries is relatively low and accounts for only 1.7 percent of deaths. However, the psychological and physical impact that these injuries have had on the victims, their families, as well as the people of Angola are unimaginable.

In addition, landmines have left previously fertile soil unusable due to the danger, as well as causing infertility to the land.


Destruction and Devastation

Angola-ox-cartOx cart, form of transport used within the more rural communities of Angola. Photo: Dominique Roberts.These are only some of the problems that the war has caused. Infrastructures, schools, hospitals, public buildings and roads were also destroyed, and due to the lack of money within the country, the remnants of destroyed buildings are still found everywhere.

The devastation of roads and transport systems restricts access to medicines, health services, and other vital resources which cannot be transported to places of need.

The history of conflict has inevitably had a lasting impact on people's lives.



Mamma Isabella

For most, the term “Mamma” is a sign of respect for older women, but for Mamma Isabella, this is not the case.

Not having reached her 40’s, Mamma Isabella’s name was given due to her status. She was married to one of the prominent pastors in Menongue, Pastor Bonito.

Mama Isabella told Dominique her story.


At the age of 9, Mamma Isabella was kidnapped from her village by soldiers. Everyone who was not taken by the soldiers was killed. Mamma Isabella describes the group that were taken from their village as being all girls and most of them were only children.

The kidnapped victims were taken to a camp where the soldiers stayed and were kept as prisoners. Girls who were only a few years older than Isabella were sexually abused, and used as sexual slaves for the pleasures of any soldier. Mamma Isabella said that thankfully she was still considered too young to be sexually abused. She does not describe much else about this experience. But one could see from the way she speaks that many things had taken place in the camp and the memories of events still haunt her.


As the months passed, she said she realised that if she did not escape from the camp, she would suffer the same abuse the other girls had. One night, she succeeded in escaping and found her way to a nearby village where it became her refuge.


Still being very young and having been separated from her family when her village was invaded, she was seemingly alone. However, this changed while she was in church one day. She met an older man, a Pastor Bonito serving in the church and who was a widower, 19 years her senior. He approached her and told her that he had known for a long time that, if he ever remarried, he would marry her. And Pastor Bonito and Isabella got married recently.

Reunited With Family

Being a prominent pastor’s wife, she had to adapt to a new life, but states that she wanted to hold-on to her roots. After the war ended, Mamma Isabella was reunited with some of her family members and went back to visit the village she grew up in. She adds that although she is well taken care of by her husband, she still returns to her home village for a few weeks every year to help with work on the land and plant crops. She also participates in community work because the people are still in the process of rebuilding their lives after the war and are in need of support.

Others Less Fortunate

Urban-AngoliaHouses in a more urban part of Angola. Photo: Dominique Roberts Mamma Isabella's story is one of the many that tells of villages being destroyed during the war, families being torn apart, and people’s lives being haunted by the memories they carry after the war has ended.

Mamma Isabella ends her story by saying that she was one of the lucky girls.

She was never abused sexually by the soldiers because she managed to escape, and is now married to a man who provides for her and her family. She give thanks to God daily for protecting her when she was a child and even until now.


One of Fastest Growing Economies in the World

Although the war left Angola in a state of bankruptcy, there are many economic changes that have taken place since the civil war ended in 1991.

Diamond, oil, gold, copper are just some of the resources in Angola that is providing economic wealth for the country.

Sellling-fish-AngoliaDried fish being sold at the market in Menongue. Photo: Dominique RobertsAfter the disarray, the war caused on the farming and agriculture industry, there has been a gradual growth in agriculture and an overall recovery of the economy.

This is reflected through the fact that Angola is one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

However, this growth in economy is most often only felt by the wealthier population within Angola.



Over Half the Population is Below Poverty Line

According to the UN, 58 percent of the population is still considered to be living below the poverty line. The people who fall into this category mainly live in the rural areas of Angola, where landmines mean that much of the land is unusable.

Selling-meat-in-AngolaVarious types of meat being sold at the market in Menongue. Photo: Dominique RobertsThis poses a problem due to the fact that before the civil war, these people were able to sustain their families through the farming of bananas, coffee and other produce.

Therefore Angola, which was once a self-sufficient country, is now dependent on imported food supplied by South Africa and Portugal. But imported food is more expensive, and with the high poverty rate, very few people can afford it.




One of the Lowest Life Expectancies in the World

This food scarcity poses wide-spread problems including malnutrition, famine and other nutrition based problems. The overall population often live in harsh conditions.

Nearly Two Thirds of the Population Have No Access to Sanitation

Well over half of Angolans (60%) do not have any access to any form of sanitation, and 42 percent only have access to unsafe water, or have to walk very long distances in order to collect water. This situation and along side with many other factors make Angola one of the countries that have the lowest life expectancy in the world. The average life expectancy is 51 years old.

Epidemics and Lack of Clean Water

Angola-mum-and-kidsA mother & her two children washing & doing their dishes in the river. Photo: Dominique RobertsHealth problems cause recurring issues in Angola, both within the government as well as the general population.

The country faces epidemics of cholera, malaria, rabies, and African hemorrhagic diseases. Tuberculosis and HIV are also highly prevalent in most of the regions of Angola, especially within the rural areas.

Insects carrying diseases also pose a major problem; dengue, filariasis, and river blindness are just some of the diseases that are prevalent in large parts of Angola. The high number of cases of these insect born diseases have increased because most are carried by unclean water, and only 58 percent of Angolans have access to clean water.


One of the Highest Infant Mortality Rates Worldwide

Angola-childA small child playing in the sand. Photo: Dominique RobertsThe prevalence of these diseases combined with poor nutrition, lack of access to health care and medicine, and the use of disease infected water that causes cholera, diarrhoea and other water borne diseases, contributes to Angola having one of the highest infant mortality rates worldwide.

One in five children dies before they reach the age of 5 years old. UNICEF states that the largest contributor to this low life expectancy in children is due to an underlying condition of malnutrition that occurs in 29 percent of children.



High Birth Rate

Despite this high infant mortality rate, the birth-rate is considerably high too compared to other countries. This is partly due to the fact that people have limited access to contraception across the provinces. Out of the entire population of Angola, just 6 percent of women aged between 15-49 use contraception.

Lack of Maternal Healthcare Professionals

Maternal healthcare is also a huge problem within the health sector because many women live in rural areas. There are no health care professionals to support them during their pregnancy, birth, or help with a newborn. 53 percent of all babies are born without the assistance of skilled nurses or any other health care professionals.

Most Births Are Not Registered

Angola-fabric-stallTwo children in front of fabric stall at the market in Menongue (little girls’ hair is braided with colourful beads until they reach the age of 11). Photo: Dominique RobertsRegistration after births also poses a great problem.

This could be due to the distance a mother and newborn would have to take to official buildings, or the lack of knowledge.

Only one in three children are registered at birth. Many of these unregistered children face difficulties in getting enrolled into schools, or may not be entitled to any other services offered by the State.




Nearly One Child in Ten is an Orphan

The orphaned population faces similar problems, too. In Angola, approximately 9.5 percent of children are orphans, due to war or diseases. Therefore, children who are not registered at birth face  greater disadvantages because it is harder for them have access to the social grants, and for some orphans, they face the prospect of not being placed in the limited facilities within the country.

Over Half of School Buildings Were Destroyed

Angola-schoolA village school - there will be one of these schools for the entire village’s children. Photo: Dominique Roberts.According to Angolan law, schooling is compulsory for all children, and it is also free for eight years. The Angolan Civil War has posed a huge problem to the educational system because more than half of the school buildings in the country were destroyed, and funds are not available to rebuild them.

In 2011, it was estimated that over one million children were not receiving any education. The lack of school buildings as well as teachers and materials, and the increased demand for domestic responsibility, means many children are unable to attend school. All of these factors contribute to making education a huge challenge.

Literacy is recorded at 67 percent and the gender break down of this suggests that education is not deemed as important for girls when compared to boys. 83 percent of males were found to be literate, in comparison to 54 percent of females in the last census.



Dominique-RobertsDominique Roberts is a Safeworld Student Writer. She is studying Psychology in South Africa.

"I was born and have lived in South Africa my entire life. Despite the many challenges we as a country face, my heart definitely lies in Africa...

I plan to do my Masters and then specialize in trauma psychology (specifically childhood trauma). My love for children has been intensified by volunteering at a pre-school situated in a disadvantaged farming community...

Another ambition in my life is to help women... The social injustices and abuse they suffer have become “real” to me through getting to know many incredible women who have had firsthand experience with this type of abuse. I have seen the impact it has had on their lives, and want to stop gender based injustice for good."