This interview was first published on the Agência Pública site on November 16, 2015. It is republished on Global Voices in two parts with permission. Read the second part of the interview: ‘If There Is One Thing the Angolan Government Is Scared of, It Is People’
Laurinda Gouveia is an impressive young woman who lives in a small studio in one of the shantytowns of Luanda, the capital city of Angola. She is 26 years old. She is in her third year of studying philosophy because she “wanted to have a more coherent way of thinking of things”. Since 2011, she has been one of the few women who frequents demonstrations against President José Eduardo dos Santos, in power for more than 36 years, and the vibrant rap scene in Luanda, where young people, inspired by Brazilian groups like Racionais MCs, discuss the problems of the country, one of the most unequal in Africa. The protests attracted dozens of people in 2012, but dwindled in the face of a meticulous strategy of repression and selective terror by the government, which has not only affected the youth protesters, but their families as well. This is what happened to Laurinda.
Until last year, she worked with her aunt in the informal sector selling barbecue, soup and beer on the street. But then everything changed. Laurinda gained national notoriety after being brutally attacked by the Angolan police when she participated in a protest as a citizen reporter. The episode led her family to expel her from home.
Beaten for two hours by police officers, she decided to tell all to online sites, showing her wounded body. “They started to beat me, still handcuffed, with nightsticks, with a broomsticks, giving it to me on my legs, all over. I was just crying, asking for forgiveness, saying I was sorry, all kinds of words came out of my mouth, really saying I was sorry.” In her interview with Pública in August in Luanda, Laurinda turned her eyes away from the camera when she remembered those hours of torture. “Don't get yourself into this, you are a woman, concern yourself with marriage and having kids… After this beatdown, you will not have kids!” said the police. “The way that they beat me, it lead me to believe they were truly furious at me,” she says.
Five days after having given us this interview and publicly acknowledged that she had participated in a study group based around the book “From Dictatorship to Democracy” by Gene Sharp with 15 other young people imprisoned since June, Laurinda was forced to give a deposition, prohibited from speaking about her questioning, and officially became a defendant in the same case. She was accused of planning a rebellion and allowed to remain out on bail, according to Angolan courts.
Laurinda's trial began November 16 and will continue on for weeks in Luanda's Provincial Courts. This was her last interview as a free woman.
Pública: How did you start participating in the demonstrations?
Laurinda Gouveia (LG): Eu faço ativismo desde 2011. Faço parte de um grupo da igreja, sou uma pessoa que gosta muito de orar e questionar as coisas. Quando ouvi a notícia da manifestação, disse: “Uau, então podemos mudar alguma coisa reclamando…”. A partir dali, comecei a seguir, né? Comecei a entusiasmar-me também. Então fui. Falei com meu primo. O meu primo, como gosta de rap, ele conhecia muito bem o Luaty, e ele até disse, a brincar: “Olha, nem vale a pena seguir o Luaty, porque ele já vem falando do presidente há bastante tempo”. E fui seguindo, só ia participar das manifestações, depois voltava pra casa. Comecei a participar normalmente, até a data de hoje.
Laurinda Gouveia (LG): I've been an activist since 2011. I am part of a church group, I am a person who likes to speak and question things a lot. When I heard news of the [first] demonstration, I said, “Wow, so we can change something by complaining…” And from there, I just followed, right? I started to get really excited too. So I went. I spoke to my cousin. My cousin, as he likes rap, he knew [rapper] Luaty [Beirão, who is charged with planning a rebellion over participation in the same study group] really well, and he even said, playing around, “Look, it's not worth following Luaty, he's been talking about the president for a good long time.” And I kept on following, I just used to go to the demonstrations, then I would return home. I began to participate normally, and continue to do so till this day.
Pública: What was your first experience with security forces?
LG: Em 2012 foi a primeira vez que eu fui agredida por um agente da polícia secreta. Marcou-se uma manifestação e, como é normal, eles vêm sempre com paus, que é pra bater nos manifestantes. Quase todos fugiram e eu e me mantive lá, estava a andar normalmente como se não tivesse a fazer parte do grupo… Só que eles, depois, disseram: “Olha, pega ela também, pega ela também!”. E depois apareceu um senhor e deu-me uma galheta [tapa], e a chapada que ele me deu, assim mesmo, do nada… Porque eu tava um pouco renitente também, não quis sair do largo porque aquilo é público. Não tenho que sair porque simplesmente alguém que está a fazer o trabalho do Estado quer que eu saia. Até que, depois eles cansaram, outros moços vieram conversar comigo: “Mas por que tu estás a te meter nisso? Deixa disso. Estuda, arranja um bom marido, não te preocupes com isso, porque não és tu que vai mudar isso”. Foi a primeira agressão que eu sofri.
LG: 2012 was the first time I was attacked by a secret police agent. The demonstration was scheduled, as is normal, they came always with wooden sticks, to beat up demonstrators. Almost everybody fled and I stayed there, I was walking normally as though I was not part of the group. Only then, they said, “Look, grab her too, grab her too!” And then a gentleman came up and smacked me, and the way he slapped me, just like that, out of the blue… Because I was a little stubborn also, I refused to leave the square because that was public. I do not have to leave simply because somebody working for the state wants me to. At which point, after they tired of me, some other boys came up to talk with me, saying “But why are you getting involved in this? Leave it alone. Study, find a good husband, don't worry yourself with this, because it is not you who is going to change this.” That was the first act of aggression that I suffered.
Pública: Did this make you want to participate more, or did you get scared?
LG: No momento eu pensei: “O dia em que chegarem com o porrete, não sei como é que eu vou ficar!”. Mas aquilo depois passou, consegui levar normalmente e continuei a fazer as atividades, comunicando-me com os manos quando havia manifestação. Penso que as coisas começaram a andar mais quando nós optamos pelas manifestações espontâneas. Os policiais mesmo chegavam e batiam, não viam se era menina, se era rapaz, batiam-nos. E ainda assim eu continuei.
LG: At the time I thought, “The day they arrive with nightsticks, I do not know how I am going to stay!” But that passed afterwards, and I was able to take it and I continued with these activities, communicating with our guys when there was a demonstration. I think stuff started to get going when we opted for spontaneous protests. The police still came and beat us, without even seeing if we were young women or men, they would beat us. And even so, I carried on.
Pública: When did you start to get more involved? Was it after 2012?
LG: Continuei com as pessoas, conheci o Luaty pessoalmente, o Nito, o M’banza Hanza [os três estão presos desde junho] e outros manos, né?, e começamos a dar um outro rumo ao ativismo. Principalmente nas manifestações espontâneas, eu faço um papel de tipo repórter cívica: quando via uma ação policial contra os manifestantes, fazia fotos. E foi quando em 2014, isso no dia 23 de novembro, decidimos fazer uma manifestação que durava dois dias, na qual estávamos a exigir a demissão imediata do José Eduardo do cargo de presidente. No dia 22 não pude participar, então decidi participar no dia 23. Fui ao Largo da Independência, mas quando chegamos lá logo vimos o aparato policial. E como sempre o [partido] MPLA criou uma contramanifestação, encontramos jovens vestidos com t-shirts do MPLA e tudo mais… Quando era mais ou menos 16 horas, já não tinha tanto policiamento, nós decidimos entrar no largo, apesar dos empecilhos, porque o largo tava vedado. Normalmente, quando há manifestação, eles vedam o largo, que é pra nós não entrarmos e exercermos a dita liberdade de expressão. Éramos sete. Fiquei na retranca: “Vou fazer imagens pra mandar pros manos que estão no Facebook acompanharem”.
Logo que os ativistas tentam entrar, os policiais vieram logo com porrete e começaram a bater, e nós éramos sete pessoas. Eu peguei o telefone e comecei a retratar aquilo. Assim que eles se deram conta, os manos fugiram, e eles vieram todos contra mim: “Me dá o telefone!”, eu disse, “Não, não vou dar o telefone”. Apareceu uma senhora, vestida assim, me deu uma chapada na cara, eu fiquei totalmente descontrolada. Um dos policiais pegou-me na mão que era pra tirar-me o telefone, e eu sempre a fazer força pra não largar o telefone. Ele veio, deu uma galheta, eu disse: “Não, você não pode fazer isso!”. Os carros todos parados, a rua toda a olhar, mas ninguém se mete. O telefone eles levaram, e eu ia atravessando pro outro lado, foi assim quando veio um agente da Sinse [serviço secreto], pegou-me pelo braço e alguns comandantes vieram e começaram a puxar: “A senhora vai pra esquadra!” [delegacia]. Pegaram-me no cabelo, a puxarem no braço, na perna. E fomos, eu sempre a chorar e a pedir socorro, foi assim que eu vi que não estavam me levando à esquadra. Algemaram-me.
Quando dei por conta, tava na escola Primeiro de Maio. Ainda tava lúcida, vi que eram gente da polícia e gente da Sinse. Eles pegaram-me, começaram a bater-me ainda algemada, com porrete, com pau de vassoura, a dar-me mesmo na perna, em toda parte. Não tinha como falar alguma coisa, eu só estava a chorar, a pedir desculpa, a pedir perdão, todo tipo de palavra saiu da minha boca, a pedir mesmo perdão. Foi assim que apareceu um dos comandantes, falei: “Tio, por favor, desculpa!”, ele deu-me um soco nos olhos. Eu a pedir sempre desculpa, desculpa, mas ele a ofender-me. “Não, nós já avisamos, vocês não ouvem… E por isso hoje vais ter que se mijar nas nossas mãos!” Eu me mijei, ainda tava algemada, mijei-me. Depois eles disseram “Desça do carro!”, desalgemaram-me e meteram-me no chão. Eu só estava a dizer: “Pra sofrer assim, vale a pena tirar-me a vida! Não estou a aguentar a dor!”.
Foi assim que chegou um senhor de óculos e perguntou-me “Laurinda, tu me conhece?”, eu disse: “Não, não conheço o senhor”. Pegou um porrete diferente, um assim grosso, começou a bater-me, mesmo, a bater-me, disse: “Vira de costas!”. Começou a dar-me no rabo, a dar, a dar. Disse: “Você hoje vai se lembrar quem eu sou!”. Foi cerca de uma a duas horas mesmo só a bater-me, aquilo foi um sofrimento e tanto. Depois dali eles disseram: “Ok, agora vamos conversar”. Perguntaram qual é o partido que nós seguíamos. Eu disse: “Não temos partido nenhum”. “Quem é vosso líder?”, eu disse: “Não, nós não temos líder. O que nós estamos a reclamar é algo que nos é de direito”. Pegaram uma câmera e começaram a filmar, a fazer perguntas: onde que eu nasci, com quem vivia, onde estudo. Algumas coisas eles já sabiam porque me vinham a investigar. Da maneira que eles batiam, dava a entender que eles tinham mesmo raiva de mim, dessa minha persistência nas manifestações.
LG: I carried on with people, I got to know Luaty personally, Nito and M'banza Hanza [all three in prison since June] and the other brothers, right? And we started to take another direction in our activism. Principally, the spontaneous protests, with me taking the role of citizen reporter: when I saw a police action against the protesters, I would take photos. And it was in 2014, on November 23, when we decided to have a two-day protest, in which we were asking for the immediate resignation of José Eduardo dos Santos from the presidency. On November 22, I could not participate, so I decided to participate on November 23. I went to the Largo de Independência (Independence Square), but when we arrived there we saw right away the police apparatus. As always, the MPLA [ruling party] had created a counter-protest, and we found young people wearing MPLA tshirts and all the rest… Around 4 pm, when there not much more policing, we decided to go into the square, in spite of the obstacles, because the square was all fenced off. Normally, when there were protests, they would fence off the square, so that we could not enter and exercise our rights to free expression. We were seven people. I was hanging back: “I will take some images so the brothers on Facebook can follow along.”
As soon as the activists started to enter, the police came right away with nightsticks and started beating them, and we were seven people. I grabbed my phone and started to document it. As soon as they realized this, the brothers fled, and they came towards me: “Give me the phone!” I said, “No, I'm not going to give you the phone.” A woman appeared, dressed up, and slapped me on the face, and I lost control. One of the police grabbed me with his hands to take my phone, and I was trying hard not to let go. He came and smacked me, and I said, “You can't do that!” The cars were all stopped, the street was watching, but nobody intervened. They took the phone, and I started to cross to the other side, when a secret service agent grabbed me by the arm and some commanders came and started to pull me: “You are coming to the police station!”. They grabbed my hair, they grabbed my arm and my leg. And we went, with me crying and asking for help, and so I saw that they were not taking me to the police station. They handcuffed me.
When I realized where I was, it was the Primeiro de Maio School. I was still lucid and I realized there were police and secret service agents. They grabbed me and started to beat me while I was still handcuffed, with a nightstick, a broomstick, really hard on my legs, all over. There was no way I could say anything, I was just crying, saying I was sorry, asking for forgiveness, all kinds of words came out of my mouth, really saying I was sorry. So when one of the commanders arrived, I said, “Uncle, please, forgive me!” and he punched me in the eyes. I was saying I was sorry the whole time, sorry, and he was offending me. “No, we warned you, and you wouldn't listen… And for that today you are going to piss yourself in our hands!” I did piss myself, I was still handcuffed and I pissed myself. Then they said, “Get down from the car”, they took off my handcuffs and put me on the ground. I was just saying, “Suffering like this, it would be worth it to just to take my life! I can't handle the pain!”
Then a gentleman with sunglasses arrived and asked me, “Laurinda, do you know me?” and I said, “No, I do not know you, sir.” He grabbed a different nightstick, very thick, and started to beat me, even, while beating me he said, “Turn around!” And he started to hit my backside, hitting again and again. He said, “Today you are going to remember who I am!” It was for about two hours that he beat me, that was such suffering. After that, they said, “Okay, let's talk.” They asked which party we followed. I said, “We don't have a party.” “Who is your leader?” I said, “No, we don't have a leader. What we are asking for is something that is our right.” They grabbed a camera and started filming, asking questions: where I was born, who did I live with, where I study. Some things they already knew because they had been investigating me. The way that they beat me led me to believe they were really furious with me, of my persistence in the protests.
Pública: What happened after this?
LG: Dali pra cá minha vida mudou tremendamente, porque depois os meus familiares não gostaram, acharam que a melhor solução seria eu sair de casa, já que vinham avisando-me e eu constantemente a fazer aquilo que eles não queriam. Até agora não aceitam. Então acharam que a melhor maneira de resolver esse problema era tirar-me de casa. Até o ano passado eu trabalhava com a minha tia. Ela vende churrasco, sopa e cerveja.
LG: After that my life changed tremendously, because my family did not like it, and thought the best solution for me was to leave home, especially as they had been warning me constantly [against protesting], and I was always doing what they didn't want. Even now they don't accept it. So they thought the best way to resolve the problem was to pull me out of the house. Until last year I worked with my aunt. She sells barbecue, soup and beer.
Pública: And were you forced to stop working with your aunt and look for other work?
LG: Comecei a me virar. Estou a viver um pouco mais próxima da universidade e as coisas estão mais calmas. A dificuldade foi… Estar com a família é outra coisa, viver só é algo difícil. Eu no momento vendo calçados. O lucro é o que eu tiro pra sustentar-me e pagar também a universidade. Mas penso que, quando estamos numa luta, devemos arcar com as consequências. Enquanto vivermos, teremos que nos sujeitar a tal coisa. E psicologicamente vou me arranjando também, porque afetou-me mesmo psicologicamente. Até agora, fisicamente, encontro-me com sinais desse espancamento. E, lógico, a maneira de olhar pra esses senhores não é como era antigamente, porque não tinha provado dessa experiência, de tanta maldade da parte deles.
LG: I started to get by. I am living a little closer to university and things are calmer. The hard part was… being with family is one thing, living alone is hard. At the moment I'm selling shoes. The profit is what I take to support myself and pay my university fees. But I think that when we are involved in a struggle, we have to handle the consequences. As long as we are alive, we have to subject ourselves to exactly that. And psychologically I am getting myself together too, because this really affected me psychologically. Even today, physically, I bear physical evidence of this beating. And, obviously, my way of looking at these men [in power] is not the same as it was before, because I hadn't had this experience, of such nastiness from them.
Pública: When this happened to you, did it make the news? Was there any repercussion?
LG: Teve. A princípio eu também estava assim meio hesitante de mostrar, pois são nas partes mais íntimas, mas fui analisando e é uma forma de mostrar às pessoas que, quando nos fazem alguma coisa, devemos mesmo reivindicar de modo que mude a situação. Então, teve notícia [nos sites] Club-K, Maka Angola, entre outros. Penso que, de certa forma, também despertou a mente das outras pessoas.
LG: Yes. At first I was hesitant to show [my wounds] because they were in intimate areas, but I thought about it, and it is a way of showing to people that when they do something to us, we have to assert ourselves in a way that will change the situation. So, it was news on the websites Club-K, Maka Angola, among others. I think that, in a way, this also raised awareness of other people.
Pública: You say you have marks on intimate parts of your body…?
LG: Tive marcas nas partes íntimas, né?, no bumbum, nas pernas… Fiquei toda manchada nas costas, houve um constrangimento, mas depois vi aquilo como algo positivo, de modo que pude motivar as outras pessoas a denunciarem quando há alguma coisa mal.
LG: I had marks on my intimate areas, right? On my bottom, on my legs, I got all marked on my back, it was embarrassing, but then I saw it as something positive, as it could motivate others to denounce things when there is something wrong.
Read the second part of the interview: ‘If There Is One Thing the Angolan Government Is Scared of, It Is People’