Angolans mourn former leader; Family seeks to keep body in Spain

LUANDA, Angola (AP) — Relatively low-key commemorations are taking place in Angola to mark the death of former President José Eduardo dos Santos, who died last week in Spain, where his family is taking steps to prevent his body from being returned to the country in southern Africa.

As part of the five days of national mourning, declared by President Joao Lourenco, Angolan government officials and ordinary citizens pay their respects to dos Santos, who ruled the country for 38 years until 2017.

Members of parliament, military officers, judges, religious leaders and ordinary Angolans lined up in the capital city, Luanda, to see candlelit portraits of the two Saints and to sign a book of condolences.

Fernando Da Piedade Dias dos Santos, president of the National Assembly and a cousin of the former president, praised him for helping Angola establish peace after a protracted civil war.

“We work together until we achieve peace in the country. We started national reconciliation. National unity was established and he (dos Santos) started the national reconstruction of our country,” he said. “These are extraordinary and unforgettable moments.”

In Spain, where dos Santos died in a Barcelona hospital, a court has approved an autopsy, following a request from one of his daughters, Tchize dos Santos. The former president’s family wants his body to be buried in Spain to prevent his burial in Angola from being used for political campaigns by the current president, according to a statement from his daughter.

Dos Santos’ sons have been accused by the government in some cases of corruption. When dos Santos stepped down from power in 2017, he chose Lourenco as his successor. But shortly after becoming president, Lourenco launched an anti-corruption campaign in which dos Santos’ sons were targeted.

During dos Santos’ long rule, vast amounts of the country’s oil and diamond wealth were siphoned off. More than $4 billion in oil revenues disappeared from Angolan state coffers between 1997 and 2002 when dos Santos was in power, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a 2004 report, based on an analysis of figures of the International Monetary Fund.

Dos Santos appointed a son, José Filomeno de Sousa dos Santos, nicknamed Zenu, to manage a sovereign wealth fund worth $5 billion. After dos Santos retired, the son was charged with embezzlement and in 2020 he was jailed in Angola for five years.

The most prominent of dos Santos’ children is his daughter Isabel, named “the richest woman in Africa” ​​by Forbes magazine, which estimated her fortune at more than $3 billion. Her father appointed her to head the state oil company Sonangol, but Lourenço fired her shortly after becoming president.

The daughter leading the effort to autopsy and bury dos Santos in Spain is Tchize, who once controlled a leading Angolan media company, an advertising agency and a major soccer team.

She has written that she does not want Lourenco to use the burial of dos Santos in Angola to boost her campaign for re-election in Angola’s upcoming August elections.

The muted reaction in Angola to dos Santos’ death and the family’s efforts to bury him in Spain is not surprising considering the current government’s anti-corruption efforts, according to Maka Angola, an investigative journalism website.

“The political heritage of José Eduardo dos Santos is the looting and kidnapping of a country, stubborn in the interests of an oligarchy created by him,” the website wrote. “Angola will take a long time to free itself from this heavy legacy of corruption and moral destruction of an entire society, of Angolans in general.”


AP reporter Ciaran Giles in Barcelona, ​​Spain contributed.


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