Bola de Neve, Switching gears? Towards an Inclusive Framework for Slum Upgrading in Cazenga and Sambizanga

In 2010, Angola’s Technical Office for the Urban Reconversion of Cazenga and Sambizanga (GTRUCS) was formed to oversee the requalification of Cazenga and Sambizanga, which are conjointly the most densely populated parts of Luanda, accounting for 2.5 million of the city’s population. [i] These areas also face significant urban challenges and are devoid of basic services such as energy, water, and drainage. The urban requalification of these localities is being orchestrated based on an ideology known as Bola de Neve which literally translates as ‘snowball,’ a term that is apt for describing its workings. Under this scheme, dwellers of the musseques are temporarily relocated to provisional housing in order to facilitate the redevelopment of their settlements after which they are moved back into their reconstructed homes.

According to an architect I interviewed at GTRUCS as part of my PhD fieldwork, the project is inspired by similar schemes in Singapore however for further reference it also parallels the in-situ slum redevelopment schemes being implemented in parts of Delhi, under the Delhi 2021 Master Plan. The project is in response to the urgent imperative of a bottom-up strategy that is inclusive and least disruptive to communities. The Angolan government expects that it will become a poster for reformist government policies and practices towards progressive, non-hierarchal forms of urban planning.

Both localities will undergo requalification to achieve model cities that are “functional, economically sustainable, inclusive and provides for its inhabitants and visitors, dignity, joy, pleasure and a high quality of life.”[ii] Underpinned by the objective of “rebranding slums into a compact city,”[iii] the master plan for both projects was completed in 2013 by the Singaporean firm Surbana (conjointly with GTRUCS), in addition to a series of Small Area Plans (SAPs) to facilitate its implementation. According to a consultant at Dar Al Handasah, which is the lead consultant for the project, the Bola de Neve approach is conceptualised as the only pragmatic solution to the requalification of Cazenga especially because residents must be moved in order to tackle the pervasive challenges faced by the municipality. Cazenga is particularly prone to flooding due to the ecological composition of its soil,[iv] further exacerbated by haphazard constructions on waterways and overcrowding. In order to rectify this problem (by draining excess water from all homes and constructing a water treatment plant), it is essential that residents are temporarily relocated insists Dar’s representative[v].

An area of 540 hectares of urban land has been demarcated for the project and 59.5 hectares of this total is being developed in an unoccupied area known as Gamek, as part of the project’s first phase. The site in Gamek when initially discovered was completely littered with radio poles. [vi]However, this unoccupied land has been subsequently developed with the aim of providing accommodation for the resident population in proximity to the site. When residents are relocated to the new site, this will allow for the requalification of the vacated areas after which a new group of residents will be transferred, in a cyclical and phased manner. During the first phase, it is expected that 500 families will be temporarily relocated to Zango, a social housing development at the periphery of the city, in order to make land available for the project. At the time I conducted fieldwork for my PhD, I was informed that the first phase of the requalification of Cazenga was 70 percent complete[vii]. In Sambizanga, where the market Roque Santeiro was infamously dismantled to make way for the project, it was reported that the installation of infrastructure had been finalised although housing was yet to commence.[viii]

The lack of housing has not gone unnoticed by residents, many of whom wonder why Roque Santeiro was dismantled so swiftly, given that the project has made very little progress.

Jorge, a 22-year resident of Bairro de Madeira (Sambizanga), who works as a painter for the Portuguese construction firm Odebrecht, says “ the plans are good but until now I have not seen the beginning of the project. They took our market and they are not building the houses. I want to know if once we are moved we will come back because some of us were born here.”

Nuno, who is 25 and resides in Antigo Roque, is more cynical about the project’s slow progress: “they have not given us a time when it [the project] will be completed because if they start and they finish very quickly, maybe the people in Sambizanga will not vote for them. So they are building very slowly to convince people to vote for their president. I don’t know when the project will be completed”. He believes that urban renewal has mostly favoured the elite and that the requalification of Sambizanga, is merely a ruse to attract votes from the poor after which the project site will be used for the development of prime real estate.

Officials at GTRUCS, however, caution that “the success of the project lies in participation. People have to be involved from the beginning. People need to be confident in the government and trust their initiative. For the project to be successful there has to be social participation, it is a long-term initiative and they must see it as such.” [ix]

Residents such as Ilda, whose daughter and her family have been relocated to Zango V nevertheless remains sceptical. She asks, “who then will live in Zango once they are moved back? I don’t think they will return and I know that only rich people will move in once the project is complete.”

Ilda’s suspicions are not entirely baseless. A key assumption that underpins the project is that the majority of relocated dwellers will voluntarily and permanently settle in Zango because of its benefits of residential improvements, cleaner and more organized environs and general improvements in living conditions. [x]Residents such as Rodrigo, who is a father of eight, is anxious to move because “ people in Zango live better.” He is very much aware of the trade-offs that are concomitant with life in the periphery and he is very much willing to live with these.

This assumption is significant because it implies that the project is not inherently designed to accommodate all those who have been relocated. Despite the significant urban challenges in both localities, Cazenga and Sambizanga still remain home to many; they are places where social networks are formed, where people earn a living, where lives are created, where marriages are formed and where babies are born. They are places where for many dwellers the sense of belonging only and truly exists. For many, they are sites of both emotional and functional attachment. The project thus potentially entails the loss of major advantages that are constituent with life in the city such as access to public services, affordable commutes and proximity to much-needed jobs in the interstices of the cidade.

GTRUCS recognises the imperative of taking social networks and place attachment into account in their approach to social-housing programs and has resolved to offer better resettlement alternatives in proximity to the city, so that dwellers do not have to forgo their central city advantage.[xi] It is however still too early to determine whether such proclamations will actually be realised or whether they are merely political rhetoric.


Sherilyn Reindorf-Partey is a PhD Candidate at the Centre of Development Studies,  University of Cambridge. Her PhD, in progress, is titled ‘Development for whom? Discourses of Modernity in Angola’s Post-War Reconstruction.’


Photo:Cazenga project site. Sherilyn Reindorf-Partey.


[i] Interview with GTRUCS Architect on 1st August 2014 in Luanda.

[ii] GTRUCS, 2012. Relatório Sócioeconómico Sobre O Município Do Cazenga E Os Distritos Do Sambizanga E Rangel. Luanda, Angola.


[iv] Interview with GTRUCS Architect on 1st August 2014 in Luanda.

[v] Interview with Dar Al Handasah Consultant and site visit to Cazenga project on 28th July 2014 in Luanda.

[vi]Interview with Dar Al Handasah Consultant on 28th July 2014 in Luanda.

[vii] Interview with Dar Al Handasah Consultant on 28th July 2014 in Luanda.

[viii] Interview with Dar Al Handasah Consultant and site visit to Cazenga project on 28th July 2014 in Luanda.

[ix] Interview with GTRUCS Architect on 1st August 2014 in Luanda.

[x] Interview with GTRUCS Architect on 1st August 2014 in Luanda.

[xi] Interview with GTRUCS Architect on 1st August 2014 in Luanda.

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