Angola on Saturday prepared to bury rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, in his home village at a public funeral, an important sign for national reconciliation seventeen years after the end of a bloody civil war.
As early as Friday evening, hundreds of people accompanied his remains to the village of Lopitanga in the centre of the country, where they will be buried.
“For 17 years, we waited” for this funeral, said Isaias Samakuva, a former commander of the rebellion waged by the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), which has since transformed into a political party.
Jonas Savimbi, known as the “black rooster”, was killed on 22 February 2002 during a clash with the army near Luena, in the centre of the country. He was 67 years old.
The next day, soldiers buried him hurriedly in the city, after the national television broadcast images of his bullet-ridden body.
Less than two months later, a ceasefire ended 27 years of a conflict emblematic of the Cold War. The United States had long supported UNITA against the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA).
Savimbi’s reburial is the result long running negotiations with the Angolan authorities. His family and party officials have been courting Luanda to give the green light for a proper exhumation and burial in Lopitanga, in accordance with Jonas Savimbi’s wishes.
“He had always said he wanted to go home,” where his father is buried, explained one of his thirty children, Cheya Savimbi.
These funerals are “an important sign for national reconciliation,” said one of his brothers, Raphael.
Almost always dressed in his green uniform, with a gun on his hip and a cane in his hand, Jonas Savimbi commanded with an iron hand an army of at least 30,000 men.
Authoritative and uncompromising, he was also “very intelligent and charismatic”, Fred Bridgland, author of a biography “Jonas Savimbi: a Key to Africa”, told AFP.
But “Savimbi betrayed his people. He ruined his movement because of his paranoia and sexual appetite,” he added.
“He killed to eliminate people in his party, those they considered a threat (…), and he killed out of sexual jealousy”.
Women who had dared to refuse her sexual advances were burned in public, as were their children, he said.
But Alleluia Savimbi defended her father: “We are all human beings, we can make mistakes, but I think my father contributed in his own way to Angola becoming a democratic country today”.
Closure for Savimbi’s family, UNITA
Saturday’s funeral was made possible by the departure in 2017 of President José Eduardo dos Santos after 38 years in power.
His successor Joao Lourenço, who comes from the same Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), is seen as a reformer.
In August 2018, a commission was set up to organize the exhumation and funeral of Jonas Savimbi.
The remains were exhumed in January 2019. In May, DNA tests conducted by South African, Argentinean, Angolan and Portuguese laboratories confirmed that the remains were those of the former head of UNITA, putting an end to decades of doubts and contradictions.