Outcry as Angola's market for the poor faces closure

Thu May 27, 2010 7:09am EDT
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By Henrique Almeida

LUANDA (Reuters Life!) - In the slums of Angola's capital Luanda lies one of Africa's biggest outdoor markets, Roque Santeiro, where poor Luanda residents can make a living or buy cheap food for their families.

Roque Santeiro is named after a hero who died protecting his city in a Brazilian soap opera that aired in the 1980s, just as the market in Luanda started to prosper during Angola's civil war.

Three decades later, hundreds of thousands of vendors wish Roque Santeiro would return to protect them from a government that plans to demolish their market and transfer them to a new site 18 km (11 miles) north of Luanda next month.

"If Roque dies, our business dies," said Olga da Conceicao, who has been selling used clothes for over 20 years. "The new market is too far for us to even afford to commute there every day. Our clients will disappear."

Every day, an estimated 200,000 people set up shop at Roque Santeiro to sell everything from toothpicks to cars. They say if you look hard enough you can find anything you want.

It is also the main market for ordinary Angolans as the capital has become one of world's most expensive cities due to the oil boom that followed the civil war, according to consulting firm ECA international.

"This is the only place poor Angolans can shop," said Joao Silva, looking through a pile of Chinese flip-flops. "This is a big market because there is demand from the poor for cheap products."

The size of the market is a reflection of the dramatic growth and poverty in Luanda, whose population has risen tenfold since 1974 -- the year the war began -- to over five million.   Continued...