Fighting for citizens’ rights: An interview with SOS Habitat

SOS Habitat is a Luanda-based civil society organisation that was founded by victims of housing demolitions in November 2002. The intention is to defend citizens’ land and housing rights by putting pressure on relevant entities to comply with Angolan and international law. SOS Habitat says its idea is to find a means of negotiating with the state in an effective but non-violent way. Today the organisation works with approximately 40 communities mainly in Luanda, but also with some in the provinces of Huíla and Huambo. Rafael Morais, member of SOS Habitat, explains:


CG: What do you think of the government’s policy of reconstruction and the act of demolitions?

RM: We think that the fault lies with the government because, at a minimum, when people were leaving conflict zones (during the civil war) for the city, they should have been settled in an organised way, but this never happened. Today people who paid such a high price during the war are paying again during the period of reconstruction. Their houses are being demolished and they are being removed to areas far away from the cityNo one, especially SOS Habitat, is against the rebuilding of the country, but it is necessary to respect people’s rights.


CG: What usually happens at demolitions: Is it true that some involve violence, that there are often police or people from the military?

RM: Yes. If the government thinks it needs to use violence to realise its aims, it is obvious that it will encounter a violent response from the community It is not easy for the residents’ committees or SOS Habitat to mobilise people to not respond violently to the government’s actions. There is a way to talk in a peaceful way and I believe people would understand if they (the government) explained what they were doing and where the people were going (to be relocated).


CG: What do you think would be a more constructive process?

RM: Demolitions should respect existing norms. People should be notified, and it should be explained why the demolition will happen and where the people are going to go. Then conditions should be created for rehousing. There needs to be a dialogue between those interested in the site, and those to be removed. But the law also states that in the case that the state needs a space for reasons of public good, it is obligatory for a citizen to cede the said space. I am talking, for example, of a hospital, or a road or school, which are for public good. But the citizen should be justly compensated.


CG: You speak about the necessity of ceding space for public good.  Do you think this is what is happening at the moment?

RM: No, this is not what is happening. During this period of reconstruction condominiums and large centralidades (satellite cities) have been built in the spaces from which people were removed. In relation to centralidades it is mostly camponeses (small-scale farmers or peasants) that were removed and were poorly compensated. In fact, some were not compensated at all. In relation to Kilamba (Luanda’s showcase satellite city) we are working with a group of camponeses that have still not been compensated.


CG: What happens to the communities that have still not been rehoused, such as the well-known cases of Bagdad, the Cambambas etc?

RM: (They) still live in the debris of their demolished homes. After the community of the Cambambas announced that they intended to protest we went to the provincial government, who signed an agreement regarding rehousing, which was to begin in September 2011. Unfortunately, there has still not been any rehousing. The population of Bagdad that was demolished in 2009 is still demanding their rights from the provincial government. We will continue to fight for these communities until the government finds a solution for them.


CG: What do you, personally, think about government’s housing policy? What do you think of new zones such as Zango or Kilamba?

RM: I think that the government is constructing cities based on social exclusion. It is building a city and applies prices that the poorer classes, those with the most need, don’t have the money for. We are continuing with injustice. As we all know, Angola is a rich country, but the majority of the people are poor. I also think that people are being moved because they are in a zone that is, let us say, under private management.1


CG: What do you say to rehoused residents who very often say that life in Zango or Panguila is better than the cubata (hut/shack) they used to have?

RM: That’s fine. We would like people to say that the place where they are is better, because this means that the government created suitable conditions for them. However, the problem is how they left to go to Zango and the distance between the old and new spaces. You have to take into account that they were close to their work, school, and other services.


CG: And why is the government not building those services?

RM: This is my question as well. If there is money to build condominiums, to build centralidades, why don’t they try to create (the abovementioned) conditions for the people there (in Zango).


CG: What do you think the Angolan government should do to create a housing policy that respects human rights?

RM: The government firstly has to create new living conditions before demolishing: A well-organised area that enables a person to live with dignity. There has to be means of transport, water, and electricity. If these services and housing are not available we will see that the government remains penalised. We have to fight for the dignity of people.

1 The people living in these communities were removed to make way for a government sponsored housing project Nova Vida (New Life) which is currently managed by a private consortium.  In Luanda, many of the worst demolitions have been undertaken by private companies who do not make provisions for rehousing.


More information about the organization and human rights in Angola can be found at SOS Habitat’s website:

Claudia Gastrow is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago. She is currently finalising her thesis, “Negotiated Settlements: Housing and Citizenship in Luanda, Angola”


This article is part of UrbanAfrica’s reporting project


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