THE body of Angola’s former President José Eduardo dos Santos, who died in Spain in July, arrived in the Angolan capital Luanda on Saturday evening, casting a new element into a tense election campaign.
“The remains of José Eduardo dos Santos have arrived in Angola after a long waiting period,” Marcy Lopes, a government minister, told reporters shortly after the casket, draped in the Angolan flag, was taken off the aeroplane.
Critics of the ruling MPLA party worried that with a tight election due to take place on Wednesday, the party could seek to politicise the repatriation, diverting attention from the main opposition party UNITA’s campaign and the electoral process.
The funeral is likely to take place on August 28, Dos Santos’ birthday, MPLA spokesperson Rui Falcao said.
There have been weeks of uncertainty over the former president’s final resting place. Dos Santos, who stepped down in 2017 after 38 years in power, died on July 8 at the age of 79 at a clinic in Barcelona, where he was being treated following a long illness.
Lawyers representing dos Santos’s daughter, Tchize dos Santos, had successfully requested a full autopsy citing alleged “suspicious circumstances” of his death, without providing evidence, and had asked for him to be buried in Barcelona.
A Spanish judge ruled on Wednesday that the death was from natural causes, ruling out foul play, and allowing the release and repatriation of his body.
Outside the airport, a small crowd clapped as the funeral car transporting Dos Santos’ body drove off to Miramar, his former official residence in Luanda.
Angola is gearing up for an election that is likely to be the tightest since the first multi-party election there in 1992. The MPLA, which was dos Santos’ party and that of President Joao Lourenço, has governed Angola since it won independence from Portugal in 1975.
UNITA is stronger than ever and anger is growing at government failures to convert vast oil wealth – Angola is Africa’s second-biggest oil producer – into better living conditions for all.
Launching his party’s campaign last month, Lourenço urged people to vote for the MPLA to honour Dos Santos’ legacy. Voters will elect a new parliament and president.
“It seems like a very transparent manoeuvre to monopolise the media, as usual,” Jon Schubert, a political anthropologist and Angola expert at the University of Basel, told Reuters, referring to the repatriation of Dos Santos’ body. Most Angolan media is controlled by the state.