Article written

  • on 29.03.2015
  • at 11:00 AM
  • by Kevin Hind

Review: The book about Angolan blood diamonds that landed Rafael Marques in court 0

Whippings, forced labour, evictions, humiliations galore and killings with impunity: you’d think you were reading about Portuguese colonial abuse in Angola. Instead, you’re reading investigative journalist Rafael Marqes’ expose of the Dos Santos regime. Mercedes Sayagues reviews the book that has the generals running scared – and that landed its author in court.

On Tuesday, Angola’s foremost and fearless investigative journalist Rafael Marques (read the Daily Maverick’s profile of him here) found himself in a court in Luanda, facing 14 years in jail on charges of criminal defamation brought by seven Angolan generals and two diamond company representatives. The plaintiffs took exception to Marques’ tales of systematic torture, murder and land dispossession in his 2011 book, Blood Diamonds: Torture and Corruption in Angola.

Also on Tuesday, the Portuguese publishing house Tinta da China put the book on-line for free. Fascinating and horrifying in equal parts, I couldn’t stop reading it.

In 2011, the first edition of 500 books in Portugal was mysteriously bought out as soon as it hit the stores. After a flurry of press reports, the book, now in its fifth edition, became a best seller in Portugal – whose government is a major shareholder in the company that owns 49% of the diamond company Sociedade Mineira de Lucapa, which operates in Angola’s Lundas region.

The generals first sued both Marques and Tinta da China for defamation in Portugal but the judge threw out the case in February 2013, arguing that Marques’ research was based solid information. The generals pursued the case in Luanda, demanding US$1.2 in damages, despite a campaign by Amnesty International and others to drop the lawsuit.

Now Tinta da China’s smart move brings the book to the world. And what chilling read it is – stories of torture, female corpse mutilation, dozens of miners buried alive, land dispossession, denial of access to land, water and subsistence agriculture, all carried out by the army and Teleservice private security.

This is how the system works: Local peasants of Chokwe ethnicity and foreigners, mostly Congolese, engage in artisanal mining, orgarimpo, paying soldiers and Teleservice guards a fee for turning a blind eye.

A patrocinador (sponsor) provides food, tents and tools and keeps 50% of the diamonds. The soldiers, guards and the local chief or soba get 25% and the garimpeiros 25%. But the men in uniform change the rules arbitrarily. “When their lovers come, they need more money,” says a chief. Or shifts change and the new guards want a cut.

Marques documents 500 of cases of torture and 119 murders in just one municipality, Cuango (population 150,000). Witness after witness tells of systematic beatings (40 beatings with a shovel or rifle on the back, 30 on the buttocks, 20 on the soles of the feet). Being forced to drink muddy or stagnant water and eat rotten rice. Being forced to wash the uniforms and boots of the abusers, clean their lodgings and clear bush. The armed men steal and sell their food and tools, burn their clothes and force them to go home naked.

Mining concessions threaten livelihoods. The Cuango mining company paid peasants compensation of US$0.25 cents – not enough to buy a bun – per square metre. People are evicted, their crops burnt, access to roads denied. Teleservice guards extort illegal toll fees.

Continue reading on: The Daily Maverick

by Mercedes Sayagues

Photo Credit: The Daily Maverick

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