Controversy erupts over Angolan warlord Savimbi’s reburial

Unita leader Jonas Savimbi Image: Sowetan archives.
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Angola’s government and the main opposition UNITA party on Tuesday traded accusations over the handover of the body of rebel chief Jonas Savimbi, who is due to be reburied in his hometown on June 1.

The charismatic warlord, who fought Angola’s socialist government in a 27-year civil war, was killed in a battle against the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) forces on February 22, 2002.

His death paved the way for a peace deal that brought an end to one of Africa’s longest and bloodiest conflicts, which erupted after independence from Portugal in 1975.

He was buried the day after he died in Angola’s eastern Moxico province. Six weeks after his death, his National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) movement signed a peace treaty with the MPLA government.

The body was due to be handed over to UNITA officials on Tuesday but the party accused the government of backtracking at the 11th hour.

“The government at the last minute changed what had been arranged,” UNITA spokesman Alcides Sakala Simoes told AFP.

He said the government first said the remains would be handed over in Luena, the capital of Moxico province where Savimbi was buried, and “after that they said Kuito and finally Andulo” in the country’s centre.

“We don’t know where the body is… they are trying to humiliate UNITA and sabotage the programme,” he said.

“This will not help the process of national reconstruction.”

But minister of state Pedro Sebastiao, who is in charge of President Joao Lourenco’s security, rubbished the claim.

“UNITA has created a deadlock… They were not present in Luena” as arranged, he said.

“In their absence, we have left the body in a military barrack.”

“It’s total confusion,” Helena Savimbi, one of the warlord’s daughters, told AFP, accusing the government of “not respecting accords.”

The rebel leader is due to be re-buried in his hometown Lopitanga on June 1.

UNITA has campaigned for Savimbi to be given a dignified funeral, and President Lourenco last year set up a commission to exhume and rebury his remains.

Lourenco came to power in 2017 as head of the MPLA party, succeeding Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who ruled for 38 years.