IURD church in Alvalade

Sometime after the end of the São Silvestre foot race through the streets of Luanda and the start of any of the many New Year’s Eve parties (this one, worthy of both Marilyn Monroe and De Beers, caught our attention), a tragedy occurred. Sixteen people died (among them three children) and one-hundred and twenty were injured at an event called “The Day of the End” at the Cidadela stadium in Luanda organized by the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (now global, it originated in Brazil and claims to have 8 million followers). According to the police, an estimated 250,000 people crowded into a stadium with a capacity of 70,000 where only two of the four gates were open. Early accounts reported people being trampled but hospital staff attributed mortality to suffocation, exhaustion and hunger (Novo Jornal No. 249, January 4, 2013).

The result of relentless publicity shilling (“The Day of the End: come bring an end to all the problems in your life – sickness, misery, unemployment, bankruptcy, separation, family arguments, witchcraft, desire”) capped by an exhortation to “Bring your whole family,” pastor Felner Batalha led his sheep to slaughter rather than salvation. UNITA representative Paulo Lukamba Gato has called for a revision of state policy on church groups. Human Rights activist and lawyer David Mendes thinks the church and pastor should be held responsible for the deaths. “They commercialized God,” he said. Nonetheless, most analyses in the local press agree that both church and pastor will come out of this none the poorer.

Despite a police report that places blame squarely on the church administration, Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos set up a Commission of Inquiry composed of six ministers and the governor of Luanda, reportedly a member of this church. The Angolan website Makangola thinks it’s hard to imagine that they will turn up anything the police did not. The church contacted the proper authorities prior to the event. Police, fire department, Red Cross and others were contracted and mobilized for security services outside the venue, but they assured the Ministry of the Interior that they would take care of security inside the stadium. Who then to blame when the bounty of their advertising, free transportation, and promises of the end of penury produced a surfeit of humanity?

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God spreads the prosperity gospel. Here’s one reading of how it works on U.S. shores. Wealth is a blessing for those who pray well. Those who tithe the church will prosper, says Edir Macedo, founder of the Universal Church. The bricks and mortar this church owns in key Luanda locations testifies to the fact that his church is prospering and operates with the Angolan state’s blessing. So isn’t this church/state relationship probably reciprocal? David Mendes calls it promiscuous. We’ll remind you of this image we’ve already posted. Different church, same idea.

In post-socialist, growth oriented Angola, where the rich are getting richer and the poor have only their faith, this is one very cruel and ironic example of David Harvey’s accumulation by dispossession.