Friday, September 23, 2011

Os Mercados Perdidos: Kinaxixi e Roque Santeiro

Mercado Kinaxixi

The Kinaxixi Market was built in the 1950´s and grew to be considered by some the heart of the city. The independence leader and first president of Angola, Agostinho Neto even wrote a poem about sitting in the praça at sunset, watching people come and go. In the picture above you can see a large monument, which was to the Rainha Ginga, an important woman in Angolan history.

After the war ended in 2002, the market was in poor condition. At some point in 2003, the vendors were told to leave and the market was closed. People were told the building would be rehabilitated, which it badly needed. But it never reopened. In 2008 the entire praça was razed, including the monument to Rainha Ginga.

As you can see from the above sign that says "Breve Aqui" or "Here Soon" the plan is to convert the space, so central to the city, into a twin-towered high rise shopping center and hotel.

Roque Santeiro

Roque Santeiro was once the largest open air market in Africa. It appeared in the 1980´s in an area near the port called Sambizanga. It was famous
for its criminal activity and low prices, and known for being a place where one could find anything from used clothing and produce to contraband items. It is probable that many items sold there had been siphoned off from containers in the port. In 2008, Roque Santeiro met the same fate as Kinaxixi and the entire market was destroyed.

I once imagined, mistakenly, that Luanda would be very similar to Maputo and might have a historic and vibrant central market place. I am still curious as to where the original market in Luanda might have been - Kinaxixi and Roque Santeiro were both fairly new constructions for a city established in the 1500´s.

When I arrive here, learned that there is no central market in Luanda. The market closures were very controversial. Kinaxixi was an especially painful place for people to see destroyed. Both the wealthy and poor shopped there, had memories there.

Officially, the markets were simply "moved" to new locations, outside the city. But it is not realistic to think that these new markets are being used by the same people who worked and shopped at Kinaxixi and Roque Santeiro.Luanda has horrendous traffic issues and trying to move people anywhere, without providing them with a real public transportation system, is misguided at best.

So, what have been the consequences of removing central market places from the city center?

Zungueiras. Zungueira is the word for women who sell goods on the street. You see young men doing the same, but you mostly hear about zungueiras. Of course zungueiras existed before the markets were closed. In many African cities, people walk around selling goods. They are often called hawkers in English. Luanda is
overflowing with hawkers. They walk in and out of lanes of stalled traffic selling - just like Roque Santeiro - anything you could imagine. Cashews, beer, adaptors, phone chargers, maps, school books, soap, wood carvings. Tyree actually saw a man with a toilet seat in one hand and a laminated copy of the Mona Lisa in the other. Outside our neighborhood grocery store, Martal, ladies sit changing money and selling produce, which usually looks better than what is being sold inside. As there is no market for them to have a stall, the sidewalk is their market. Zungueiras often have children with them, crawling on the ground, between pedestrians.

Zungueiras are officially breaking the law. On most days they are ignored by the police. But every once and a while the police decide to make a raid and pick a random group of women to harass. You sometimes see a crowd of zungueiras frantically running down the street, balancing their goods on their heads, trying to outrun the police behind them.

The market closures seem to be part of a bigger scheme in Luanda. Someone has a vision for this city and that vision includes luxury shopping centers and high rise apartment buildings, not market places or street vendors. If they have to move around large masses of poor people to realize this vision, well, they´ve built new markets and new houses for them outside the city, haven´t they? Nevermind that people who live in the city don´t necessarily want to go live and work on the edges of Luanda, on the edge of society, on the edge of the economy.

The above picture shows another manifestation of the type of urban planning going on in Luanda today. Most people do not have a car. At any given moment, a major road will have thousands of people walking along the side, on their way to work, or home, or to buy food. Sometimes they have to cross these major roads, but the roads have been built for vehicles, not for pedestrians. Instead of having traffic lights and crosswalks, every few miles there are large pedestrian bridges. People are meant to cross the roads on these bridges. Except no one wants to do this - the bridges are far apart from each other, have numerous flights of stairs. Many people would rather risk being hit by a car than go 20 minutes out of their way to cross the pedestrian bridges. So, what do the police do? They put out rolls of razor wire - just like in war zones - to prevent people from crossing the road.

There is structural violence in the reconstruction. Yes, the war is over, but the city is being rebuilt with hostility towards those people who do not fit a certain vision of Luanda.

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