The Last Gasp of Socialist Realism — Luanda

Agostinho Neto was the first President of Angola.  His parents, Methodist teachers, sent him to University in Lisbon where he became a medical doctor.  He was arrested after becoming involved in a political movement to overthrow the fascist Portuguese leader, Salazar and exiled to the Cape Verde Islands where he became a well-respected doctor.   Both an airport and hospital in Cape Verde are named for him (as is a street in Belgrade.)  He escaped and went to Angola to fight for independence.  In 1962 he approached the Kennedy Administration for help and was turned down.  So he turned to Cuba, established a relationship with Che, and became a Communist leader.

Angola became independent when Salazar was overthrown in 1975.  He became president and his MPLA pushed aside the US backed UNITA, which had also fought for independence.  This started a long civil war that ended only after the cold war ended. (UNITA is now the opposition party.)  It was a proxy war with Soviet aid and Cuban troops supporting the MPLA while American aid and South African mercenaries helped UNITA.

NETO declared Angola a Marxist-Leninist state but, in practice, was more moderate.  The Organização dos Comunistas de Angola, made up of hard liners, attempted a coup against Neto, which he violently put down, executing thousands of its Communist followers.

After the coup attempt he went to the Soviet Union for cancer treatment where he died.  After his death the Soviets awarded him the Lenin Peace Prize.  Several of his poems became national anthems of African countries.

His mausoleum is a monument to brutalist socialist realism.  It was started after his death but construction stopped because the civil war drained the country of resources.  When construction stopped some of the seaside area that had been filled in became a big pond of stagnant water that was partially blamed for malaria and yellow fever outbreaks.  In 1997, almost a decade after the cold war it was not complete, the tower stood at only 80 feet.  With oil wealth it was finally completed, a decade after the fall of the Soviet Union, an anachronism the day it opened.  It includes a tall rocket like spire, called locally “The Angolan Sputnik.”

Outside lines of school children wait to pay their respects while the tourists go in.  They are in line but are jumping and waving at us.   Inside bronze statues of well-muscled men and big breasted women are striking heroic worker poses.  At the very center is the crypt, surrounded by gigantic floral displays.  The smell knocks you over although some of the flowers are silk.  Do they perfume the place?  The wreaths are from Cuba, Russia, and many African countries.  We’re prohibited from taking photos in the crypt but are encouraged to take photos of the statues and the Soviet style mural that features the Angolan flag.  Instead of a Hammer there is a gear and instead if a cycle, a machete.  It looks kind of a Communist Rotarian symbol.  At the Saõ Miguel fort there are more giant heroic murals with more gears and machetes.

I find this last gasp of Socialist Realism amusing, especially in juxtaposition with commercial billboards, multinational oil company buildings and storefront evangelical churches.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.