UNKNOWN EVIL-DOERS IN LUANDA

Publié le par Angola-Inteligente

Gina lay on a mattress in her room, the drip stuck in her hand, feeling “very feeble”. The sister of one of my key informants, she was but one of the many victims of the ‘fainting wave’ that swept through middle schools in Angola from April to September 2011. The desmaios (faintings) started in two polytechnic schools in the capital, Luanda, where I was carrying out my fieldwork, but then quickly spread through the entire city and eventually to other provinces of the country. It affected scores of teenage girls in middle and high schools — usually 20 to 100 ‘victims’ per episode — but also, in a few cases some male students and teachers. Victims, like Gina, typically reported a “horrible smell”, a feeling of cold, an unexplained mist in the corridors of their respective schools, shortness of breath, and loss of consciousness.  Following the statements of the first ‘victims’ at the technical middle school in Nova Vida, which reported they had smelled a gas, the authorities and the media propagated the idea of an unknown gas, and blamed the events on unknown evildoers. Something of an overreaction ensued: ‘victims’ were carted off in ambulances to isolation wards, with blood tests taken, though ultimately only saline drips were administered. The police laboratory was ordered to do forensic tests for the gas, while the criminal investigation police searched for the ‘evildoers’. Entry checks with armed police units and canine brigades were set up at most middle schools in Luanda, with students searched, and any items of cosmetics confiscated.  The ‘evildoer’ theory was then appropriated and instrumentalised by chief ideologues of the ruling MPLA party, such as Bento Bento, first party secretary of Luanda, who deplored in the state media the ‘general climate of instability’, and demanded ‘vigilance’ from all citizens to denounce and ‘unmask the evil-minded individuals (indivíduos malfeitores) at the service of crime and interests alien to the Angolan people’. He then added that he had no doubts that the same people – which ‘mobilise the youth to realise acts that are punishable by the penal code in force in the country, such as demonstrations of public disorder (arruaça), intrigue, and offence to [government] entities’ – were also practicing those criminal acts in the schools. The fainting wave was thus immediately connected to other current events, such as anti-government youth demonstrations that had recently started in Luanda.  The popular reception followed the theory of the ‘unknown gas’, and also ascribed a ‘technical’ cause and political intentionality to the events — but it questioned the official reading of the story. As Gina’s sister, Bela, said, “this will only get worse ahead of the elections”. Indeed, such went the reasoning of many, if Angola had one of the most efficient internal security services in the world — the former DISA/Segurança, trained by Soviet and East German instructors in the 1980s, rebranded as SINFO and equipped with Israeli technology today — how come the authors of the crime had not been apprehended yet? Furthermore, who could import such a gas? Surely only the Ministry of Interior! In fact, thus claimed another explanation, ‘they’ were testing a crowd control gas on children ahead of the elections.  There is someone who is doing this. OK, there are things that just happen, but this? It has to be a person. We don’t believe that it could be the students who are taking [the gas to school] — they [the authorities] say it’s the kids. Now it is not even permitted to take lipstick, perfume, cream inside. So this person jumped the wall, put on the bata [school uniform coat] like the others. It is not possible that it is a student who is doing this. It can only be a [malevolent] person who is behind this. There is no other reason, no other justification for this. No one knows, even the segurança do not know. (Gina, Bairro Nocal, 02.08.2011)

Gina lay on a mattress in her room, the drip stuck in her hand, feeling “very feeble”. The sister of one of my key informants, she was but one of the many victims of the ‘fainting wave’ that swept through middle schools in Angola from April to September 2011. The desmaios (faintings) started in two polytechnic schools in the capital, Luanda, where I was carrying out my fieldwork, but then quickly spread through the entire city and eventually to other provinces of the country. It affected scores of teenage girls in middle and high schools — usually 20 to 100 ‘victims’ per episode — but also, in a few cases some male students and teachers. Victims, like Gina, typically reported a “horrible smell”, a feeling of cold, an unexplained mist in the corridors of their respective schools, shortness of breath, and loss of consciousness. Following the statements of the first ‘victims’ at the technical middle school in Nova Vida, which reported they had smelled a gas, the authorities and the media propagated the idea of an unknown gas, and blamed the events on unknown evildoers. Something of an overreaction ensued: ‘victims’ were carted off in ambulances to isolation wards, with blood tests taken, though ultimately only saline drips were administered. The police laboratory was ordered to do forensic tests for the gas, while the criminal investigation police searched for the ‘evildoers’. Entry checks with armed police units and canine brigades were set up at most middle schools in Luanda, with students searched, and any items of cosmetics confiscated. The ‘evildoer’ theory was then appropriated and instrumentalised by chief ideologues of the ruling MPLA party, such as Bento Bento, first party secretary of Luanda, who deplored in the state media the ‘general climate of instability’, and demanded ‘vigilance’ from all citizens to denounce and ‘unmask the evil-minded individuals (indivíduos malfeitores) at the service of crime and interests alien to the Angolan people’. He then added that he had no doubts that the same people – which ‘mobilise the youth to realise acts that are punishable by the penal code in force in the country, such as demonstrations of public disorder (arruaça), intrigue, and offence to [government] entities’ – were also practicing those criminal acts in the schools. The fainting wave was thus immediately connected to other current events, such as anti-government youth demonstrations that had recently started in Luanda. The popular reception followed the theory of the ‘unknown gas’, and also ascribed a ‘technical’ cause and political intentionality to the events — but it questioned the official reading of the story. As Gina’s sister, Bela, said, “this will only get worse ahead of the elections”. Indeed, such went the reasoning of many, if Angola had one of the most efficient internal security services in the world — the former DISA/Segurança, trained by Soviet and East German instructors in the 1980s, rebranded as SINFO and equipped with Israeli technology today — how come the authors of the crime had not been apprehended yet? Furthermore, who could import such a gas? Surely only the Ministry of Interior! In fact, thus claimed another explanation, ‘they’ were testing a crowd control gas on children ahead of the elections. There is someone who is doing this. OK, there are things that just happen, but this? It has to be a person. We don’t believe that it could be the students who are taking [the gas to school] — they [the authorities] say it’s the kids. Now it is not even permitted to take lipstick, perfume, cream inside. So this person jumped the wall, put on the bata [school uniform coat] like the others. It is not possible that it is a student who is doing this. It can only be a [malevolent] person who is behind this. There is no other reason, no other justification for this. No one knows, even the segurança do not know. (Gina, Bairro Nocal, 02.08.2011)

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