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Angola: Once Upon a Time in Roque Santeiro

Market in Luanda by Flickr user BRamirez37, CC

The Roque Santeiro Market, a name that comes from the famous Brazilian soap opera that was a hit among the soap-opera crazed Angolans, is known for being the biggest open-air market in Africa, for transacting thousands of dollars a day, and for being the main stage for the sale of every imaginable product. Fortunately or unfortunately, the market’s days are numbered. The Luandan government plans to move the market from the Sambizanga to Panguila, located nearly 30 kilometers to the north of Luanda. The date has yet to be decided.

The Roque Santeiro Market was established in its current venue in the 1980’s, at a time when the country was still beaten down by war and provisions were scarce. Initially designed like the Boa Vista Market, the commercial area was perhaps the only location where it was possible to find a little bit of everything – albeit through hidden means, including guns and arms trafficking and both adult and child sexual services.

Currently, the Roque Santeiro Market is means of survival for many Angolan families. At the same time, the market is also a haven for criminals who have given the commercial area its bad name.

In an old article, taken from the blog entitled Angola Drops, the Brazilian blogger describes [pt] the market:

Fui com dois colegas brasileiros e um angolano ao mercado do Roque Santeiro que tem a fama de ser o maior do mundo. São 500 campos de futebol numa área de um quilómetro de comprimento por 500 metros de largura, que abriga cinco mil vendedores. A infra-estrutura é mínima: em todas as “lojas” o chão é o barro nu e o máximo de cobertura são telhas gastas de zinco ou mais comumente, lona. Obviamente vende-se de tudo. Logo na chegada passámos por géneros alimentícios de vegetais comercializados directamente sobre panos no chão, a enlatados, caldo de carne, maionese e alimentos prontos, principalmente banana da terra na grelha. Se o Roque Santeiro é um grande centro comercial a céu aberto, não poderia faltar o cinema. O complexo tem duas salas, erguidas com madeira e restos de lona e com capacidade para umas 50 pessoas cada. Em cartaz, Sete Vidas com Will Smith, exibido numa televisão de 29 polegadas colocada numa mesa alta. O barracão é adequadamente escuro e os espectadores vêem o filme em bancos de madeira sem encosto.

I went with two Brazilian colleagues and one Angolan colleague to the Roque Santeiro Market, which is famous for being the largest market in the world. It is the size of 500 soccer fields in an area that measures one kilometer by one half a kilometer, housing 5,000 vendors. The infrastructure is minimal: each “store” has a packed dirt floor, and the best roofs are some old, worn tin sheets, though more commonly just tarp. Obviously, you can find anything for sale. Right in the entrance we passed the vegetable foodstuffs sold directly on cloths right on the floor, canned goods, beef stew, mayonnaise and food ready to eat, primarily grilled local banana. And since the Roque Santeiro Market is a large open-air commercial center, it certainly shouldn’t be wanting for a movie theater. The movie theater has two rooms and is built of wood and pieces of tarp, with seating capacity for 50 people each. Now showing is Seven Pounds with Will Smith on a 29-inch screen placed on a high table. The oversized tent is adequately dark, and the audience watches from backless wooden benches.

Roque Santeiro Market by Menina de Angola

Thanks to the development that is spreading throughout the city like a wildfire, the Roque Santeiro Market will enter a new chapter that naturally displeases the vendors who go there daily to sell their wares. The government’s idea to move the market to another part of the city is part of the plan to reorganize the city of Luanda, making it more modern and safer for its citizens. This is how the author of the blog Menina de Angola [Girl from Angola, pt] sees the situation:

O mercado mais famoso do mundo vai acabar. Finalmente o governo vai transferir todos os vendedores para a Panguila, numa área organizada, com restaurantes, bancos e o mais importante condições sanitárias adequadas. Essa transferência faz parte do programa do governo de requalificação do Sambizanga que vai transformar o perigoso e violento bairro num moderno distrito comercial e residencial, com muitos prédios modernos e caríssimos.

The most famous market in the world is going to end. Finally, the government is going to move all the vendors to Panguila, into an organized area, with restaurants, banks and, most importantly, proper sanitary conditions. This transfer is part of the government’s program to reclassify Sambizanga, which will transform this dangerous and violent neighborhood into a modern commercial district with many modern and very expensive buildings.

Angolan Women in Roque Santeiro Market, by Yan Boechat, CC

The author of the blog Morro da Maianga lists [Maianga Hillside, pt] some of the possible consequences that will result from the closure of the most famous market:

mais miséria/exclusão social/mais zunga/caos urbano/mais delinquência/criminalidade/violência/mais instabilidade/insegurança/e mais um espaço de especulação imobiliária.

more misery/social exclusion, more street hawking/urban chaos, more delinquency/crime/violence, more instability/lack of safety, and more room for real estate speculation.

At the end of the post, the blogger warns:

depois não responsabilizem (apenas) a polícia.

Afterwards, (not just) the police divest themselves of responsibility.

Despite the vendors’ clear displeasure in having to move to another, supposedly more modern, location, the market administrator believes the move will be peaceful.

To see the area where the new market will be set up, go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sq1n72IYnzI

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