LUSAKA – FOR 524 days, sleeping in cardboard boxes, Joaquim and Franklin have maintained a vigil outside the offices of Angola’s state shipping company, Angonave.
Since October 18, 2000, the two men, come rain or shine, have camped outside the company’s office, in protest at the government’s move to privatise it.
They claim that in order to do so, the government illegally declared Angonave bankrupt and is selling it off to ministers.
The two men claim that 17 of their fellow protestors have already died from typhoid and malaria as a result of sleeping rough.
“We live here, 24 hours of the day… we sleep here, we eat here, we die here,” Franklin said.
Franklin, a maintenance inspector and Joaquim, a foreman, seek protection from the rain, wind and sun under a wall of cardboard cartons placed between the columns at the entrance to the Angonave building.
“We are leaders of the movement, the others, the 450 employees, take turns to support us,” Franklin said.
According to the Independent Maritime Union, the company’s liquidation was illegal.
“Under the law, the closure of a state enterprise must take place only after negotiations with unions,” Joaquim said. “In Angola, the workers are shareholders in the company.”
“As the government did not want to hold negotiations, we are occupying their headquarters. We have to prove, by our lawyers, that the company is profitable.”
Despite the government declaring the protest illegal in January, police agreed not to move the squatters, after intervention by their lawyers.
Currently, the two men get $10 (11 euros) each a month. Before, as a maintenance inspector, Franklin was earning $300 (342 euros) a month.
The men hope the death last February of Unita’s rebel chief Jonas Savimbi will expedite the peace process in a country besieged by poverty. – AFP