Zango: plans unravel

Since 2001, Angola has engaged in large-scale rehousing efforts across Luanda. As the redevelopment of the capital proceeds, more and more residents who have built in “high-risk” areas – alongside roads that need to be widened or on areas demarcated for new projects ­– have been moved to various “social housing” areas: Panguila, Sapú, Projecto Morar and Zango. Of these, Zango is probably the best known, capturing the imaginations of various strata of Luanda’s residents and receiving as much criticism as it does praise, depending on who one speaks to.

As of 2012, 36,300 houses had been built in Zango by various companies. With an estimated six to seven people per house, that makes a possible 254,100 people who have been rehoused over the last 10 years, a massive undertaking by any standard.[1] However, the question remains: what is Zango and what lessons can be drawn from it regarding the issue of housing in cities in the developing world.

What’s striking upon entering Zango is the odd mix of uniformity and personalisation that characterises the place. The houses, while having some slight differences between zones, tend to be of the same model: three bedrooms, a kitchen, a lounge and a bathroom. The roads and houses, unlike most of Luanda’s informal settlements, are evenly spaced out. Zango, after all, has a master plan.

However, as you move through the area, you notice how the plan has been tweaked by the residents. Along the main road almost all the houses have been transformed into small shops, work stations for cars, restaurants, and beauty parlours. Where people have continued to use the houses for residential purposes, they have built fencing, expanded the rooms, planted vegetable gardens, and lifted their roofs so that the ceilings are no longer so low. The point is, inhabitants have made Zango into more than a “rehousing area”, despite state efforts to prevent this (which includes fines for altering the form and colour of the houses).

To people’s surprise, houses, even though most residents have still not received ownership documents, fetch a high value on the market, being sold (illegally) for up to  Kz5,000,000 (about $50,000), with rents starting at about Kz10,000 ($100 a month).

For many, Zango is a desirable option; they seek it out and are trying to make their lives there. Many others, finding living so far from the centre too difficult, sell or rent out their homes (to migrant and expat workers) and move back to the centre. The state “has lost control of the project”[2], says one resident. This massive investment will not end the growth of informal housing areas, and, without coercion, will not stop people from simply moving away from the area. Therefore as a solution to the supposed problem of urban informality, it seems questionable. What it is becoming is an experiment in African urbanism, and more time will need to pass for the project to be fully understood.


[1] Interview with representative of Odebrecht. 23 July 2012.

[2] Interview with resident of Zango, 28 July 2012.

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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