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Glimmer of hope in Sao Tome's abandoned cocoa plantation

São Tomé and Príncipe

Nostalgic memories for residents of Roca Agostinho Neto, a town in Sao Tome and Principe.

It is a small archipelago off the coast of Gabon off Africa’s Western coast.

The island nation was once the world’s leading exporter of cocoa.

But, today nothing much is left.

“In the olden days, it was better. It was easier to have better living conditions than today. Now here, at Roça, there is no work. In the fields, there are bananas and fruits, so sometimes people will pick them, but it’s complicated. If people other than the owners try to pick them up, they get beaten up”, said 19 year old La Roça resident, Sheila das Nevas Villanova.

Sao Tomeans did not work on the plantation but some held managerial positions. After the slave trade was abolished in 1876, workers became contract employees. These employees were forced from mainland Angola, Mozambique, Gabon and Congo Republic.

Fernando d’Alva is a historian and professor at the University of Sao Tome and Principe.

“The heritage (of the Roca) are old monuments, most of them are old. There was an obvious luxury that has disappeared. There was a concern because the owners of the Roca believed in the durability of their Roca, so they built well”, he said.

Former workers now reside in what is left of a hospital building. The facility is now a pale shadow of itself.

Sao Tome and Principe gained its independence in July 1975.

And for the 1,300 people still living on the Roca, there is a glimmer of hope.

In March, the Community of Portuguese Language Countries announced plans to refurbish the Roca.


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