On Friday, November 10, 2011, Angola marked its 36th Independence Day since the proclamation of independence, November 10, 1975. It’s a few days later but better way to acknowledge the day than to focus on … Angola asylum seekers? By and large, the Western media paid no attention to Angola on Friday, but then again what else is new.
The great exception was Radio Netherlands Worldwide, which sported a piece entitled, “The `Mauros’ who could not stay.” `Mauro’ is Mauro Manuel, an 18 year-old Angolan lad who was recently informed he could stay in the Netherlands, where he’s lived, with a foster family, for the last eight years. Mauro wasn’t given asylum, but, on Tuesday last week, he was allowed a reprieve. The Dutch Parliament gave him a student visa. What happens next is up in the air.
The “other `Mauros’” are women.
Amalia is 17, Tucha is 19. Their father was killed, for political activities, and the older sister was raped. That’s when they fled Angola. They lived in the Netherlands for five years. Then, they were denied asylum and, after five years, shipped back to Angola. No matter that Amalia was 16 at the time, a minor. No matter that no one knows where their relatives are or even if they are. A year on, they still don’t know if their mother is dead or alive.
“At the other end of the scale”, according to RNI, is Engracia. 33 years old. Completed her education in the Netherlands, where she lived for 14 years. No political violence. Supported by middle class kin in Angola and the Dutch Refugee Council, who paid for her ticket back and gave her 2000 euros.
So that’s the RNI Angola Scale: weeping, terrorized, impoverished failed asylum seeking girl, on one end; successful, entrepreneurial woman, on the other. On one end, desperately poor and with no apparent means of securing income; on the other, `gifted’ handsomely, as a `returning refugee’, by the largesse of Europe.
Really? That’s the scale?
What about all those other women in Angola? What about the ones who organize, struggle, and keep on keeping on?
Women like Teresa Quarta, chairwoman of the Association of Angolan Women and Sports (AMUD), who argued this week that women athletes is all fine and well, but Angola needs to attend to developing and supporting women sports managers. What about women like primary school Maria Emelia and Rosa Florinda, women who don’t deny that things are tough, that classes are overcrowded, that the country lacks sufficient numbers of trained teachers, that too many children are too hungry. Women teachers, across the country, who keep teaching, keep pushing, keep pulling. Factory workers, farmers and farm workers, nurses and doctors, women. Ordinary women. Women not defined by their encounter with the European state. Women defined as simply Angolan.
When they look for a model, when they look for a Queen, for example, they need not look to Queen Beatrix, of the Netherlands, nor to her mother, Queen Juliana. Instead, they could look closer to home. They could look to Queen Nzinga, Nzinga the Warrior Queen of the Ndongo and Matamba, that woman who overcame local structures, who defied and often defeated the Portuguese, who almost single handedly created a new state. Nzinga was not a saint, was not some pure or ideal woman. She cut deals. She allied with the Dutch against the Portuguese. She provided safe haven for runaway slaves while at the same time engaging in the slave trade. That’s life. “It’s complicated.”
Nzinga was not a heroine nor is she an icon. She was a leader. Nzinga led in war, peace, commerce, politics, and life. Nzinga was an Angolan woman who led Angolans into action. Nzinga was an Angolan woman, who presaged not only Angola’s national independence but also its national autonomy. Include her and her descendants into the narratives and `scales’ of Angola.