Impalas’ revenge? | A dream fixture for postcolonialists

A supporter shows the colors after Angola’s 1–0 victory over Rwanda clinched a trip to Germany. (Riccardo Gangale | AP)

Luanda, Angola | At some moment on 11 June 2006, an overexercised sports commentator will allude to the colonial history of Angola and perhaps suggest that recompense against opponents Portugal lurks in the minds of the Palancas Negras (“black-faced impalas”). As in all sport, teams, once defeated, look toward the next match-up with the victorious foe for a “measure of revenge.” Applying the same dubious principle, however, to games between one-time colonies and their one-time occupiers seems a trifle ridiculous. More than a trifle.

With victory in a qualifier in Kigali, Rwanda, on 8 October, Angola clinched its first appearance in the World Cup finals, joining fellow African newcomers Togo, Ivory Coast and Ghana. President José Eduardo dos Santos termed the victory “sweaty, deserved and fair” and, with the stakes now raised for Angolan football, has shown a head of state’s capacity for meddling. On 22 December, the Angola Press Agency reported that dos Santos appeared preoccupied with team weakness a month in advance of the 2006 African Cup of Nations (“President Concerned about Soccer Team’s Attack Sector“). Following a 40-minute presidential audience, Negras coach Luí­s Oliveira Gonçalves said “[t]he President is satisfied with the two simultaneous qualifications, but a bit sceptical about the attack sector that in his point of view scores few goals.” In his attendance at training sessions, dos Santos, 63, worked with forwards and goalkeepers. He has been president for all but four years of Angola’s 30-year independence, having not stood for election since 1992.

Angola’s success set off the inevitable celebrations and reassertions of national identity. “Almost every conversation about Angola’s future includes soccer,” writes the Nigeria Daily Sun (“World Cup Epidemic Hits Africa,” 26 December). The paper quotes Cornelio Caley, professor of sociology and history at Agostinho Neto University in Luanda: “If we can do it in football, we can do it in other areas of life. It makes me very optimistic about the future.”

Angola’s encounter with the Portuguese started in 1483 with the arrival at the mouth of the Congo River of explorer Diogo Cão. The territory, 14 times the size of Portugal itself, had been named for an early king, N’gola, and would supply an estimated three million slaves to plantations in Brazil. The surfeit of white colonialists, as in Portuguese colonies Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde and São Tomé and Prí­ncipe, and the unprincipled extraction of natural and human resources would leave David Lamb (The Africans, 1987) to write that Portugal had

milked its two largest African colonies . . . as dry as a dead cow and bequeathed them nothing but the guarantee of economic disaster. (172)

A 14-year war of liberation, in which dos Santos fought, led at its conclusion in 1975 to the withdrawal of 90 percent of the white settlers in a five-month period (David Birmingham, Portugal and Africa [Hampshire, England: Palgrave, 1999], 147). This left the transport, currency, police, revenue and health systems bereft. Twenty-seven years of civil war, the stationing of some 20,000 troops from Cuba and a failed experiment with Marxism followed.

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