1974 to 2001 : Rendez-vous with Angola (by Ferreira Matos)
The story of Bernard-Henri Lévy and Angola is an old story. I found a brief article in the Portuguese newspaper, O Secolo, mentioning Bernard-Henri Lévy’s declaration regarding Angola, apparently made before a gathering of revolutionary soldiers in Lisbon in the summer of 1974, when he was there to support the revolutionary movement: «Salutations to the people of Angola, who are at the origin of everything. As always, it is the periphery that has commanded at the center, and the spark of your revolution has come from the colonies.”
I am also acquainted with a retired journalist of the Jornal do Angola in Luanda, Adriano Nunes, who witnessed the arrival of Bernard-Henri Lévy, still a young writer, in the autumn of 1975, at Luanda. Later on, Bernard-Henri Lévy would remember this stay, as he alludes to it in the opening pages of his worldwide best seller, “La Barbarie à visage humain” [Barbarism with a Human Face]. His exact words were, «if I had been a painter, but Courbet rather than David, I would have depicted the dust-coloured sky that presses down upon Santiago, Luanda, or the Kolyma».
And when the French newspaper, Le Monde, asked him to choose the five forgotten wars he would like to cover in the field, Bernard-Henri Lévy named those of Colombia, Sri Lanka, the Sudan, Burundi—but also Angola.
This newspaper story was one with a viewpoint, and in this it did not fulfil the criterion of perfect objectivity one usually expects of journalists. But at the same time, one cannot say that Bernard-Henri Lévy did not accomplish his task.
He visited the destroyed cities, like Kiuto and Huambo. He went to the areas that were at the time the most dangerous, for they were war zones: Porto Amboim, Benguela, Menongue, and Bailundo.
He took planes that, to avoid the ground-to-air missiles Unita fighters launched against every aircraft suspected of being a government plane, could only land by remaining in the clouds as long as possible and then diving towards the landing field, at untold risk of injury to the eardrums.
He travelled in trucks loaded with merchandise that were prey to confiscation for ransom at every moment.
He mixed with the population and understood their suffering.
He lived the daily life of men and women of Angola, at the very worst moment for them.
And most of all, he told of the suffering of those in Angola, in particular in the Lundas, who were considered the lowest of the low and thus treated like slaves, the diamond diggers. Few men have done that. Rarely have I read pages on the subject as intense as those he devoted to these men in his story, ones he came back to in the work entitled “Réflexions sur la guerre, le Mal et la Fin de l’Histoire” [Reflections on War, Evil, and the End of History].
Today, Angola is at peace. We are grateful to Bernard-Henri Lévy to have never approached this war in a Manichean manner. He led this combat in the great traditions of tolerance and democracy of French philosophy.
Translation by Janet Lizop
Angolan journalist. Based in Luanda.
Photo 1 : Angolans celebrating independence in the streets of Luanda, November 1975
(c) Courtesy United Nations.
Photo 2 : Hotel un Kuito, Angola. (c) D.R.