About 50 men, women and children spent the weekend locked up in the same police cell following an Angolan police operation targeted at the street vendors known as “zungeiras” in Luanda.
An officer at the Marçal police station in the capital told Maka Angola that “the police are following the orders of the governor of Luanda, Bento Bento”.
The official, whose name cannot be revealed, said that Bento Bento’s orders aim at stopping the vendors who walk the streets of Luanda selling their wares, “because they give the city a bad image”.
Ângela André, 39, was detained on Friday at Congolenses Market for having five cookies in her possession.
“I’d already finished selling and was going home with five cookies, when the fiscal officers from the provincial government chased me. I dropped the cookies and was detained with nothing,” said Ms André, mother of four children.
“Even people who were just shopping were arrested by the officers,” she added.
She was released on Monday afternoon after three days in detention.
Ângela André criticised the provincial governor’s policy of preventing the street vendors’ activities.
“This isn’t right. The government should find alternative markets for us to trade in. Instead, the police are telling us we must only sell in front of our own front doors or find another place,” she said.
“My husband is a security guard and earns 25,000 kwanzas (US$250) a month. I have to sell to help provide food and to get money for him to pay his transport fare to get to work. His salary is not enough.”
Another street vendor, Lúcia António, was detained by the provincial government’s fiscal officers around midday while she was selling clothes in Congolenses Market. “The officers divided up the clothes. They took away our business.”
Ms António said she was detained overnight.
“The police are photographing us, registering us and threatening us that if we are detained again we will be sent to Viana Prison and will be charged in court for the crime of disobedience,” she said.
Fátima Luciano, 42, spent three days in prison after she was detained for selling vegetables near São Paulo market.
“They put almost 50 people in the same cell, with mothers breast feeding babies next to men. We were really cramped. Then the Marçal administrator came to calm us down and told us they would treat us well,” she said.
“God knows how I am going to support my eight children. My husband is unemployed. The government doesn’t support us, it just punishes us,” Ms Luciano said.
After the group detained on Friday were released, various other vendors and others who were merely suspected of selling on the streets were detained and held in the cell at Marçal police station.
According to police there, the “clean up the street vendors” operation will continue until other orders are given.
Ângela André’s husband, Vicente Ngola, testified that the campaign to arrest street traders was continuing: his sister, Serafina Vicente, was arrested on Sunday in Viana municipality.
“My sister was detained for selling yoghurt to survive,” Mr Ngola said, speaking after his wife was released.
Serafina Vicente remains in detention at the Bita police station in Viana.
Police breaking the law
Salvador Freire, chair of the human rights organisation Associação Mãos Livres expressed disgust at the arrests, and said the detention of men and women in the same cell was “an abominable act” by the police.
“The women are our mothers, sisters and daughters. The police have to have an attitude and concept of respect for women. Whoever gave this order should be held criminally responsible. That was an illegal act,” Mr Freire said.
He added that the police had acted illegally in detaining the street traders. “The vendors are not accused of committing a crime. Therefore, keeping them in prison and photographing [profiling] them are illegal acts,” he said.
According to Angola’s Penitentiary Law (Law no 8/08), “it is prohibited to keep together inmates of opposite sexes inside any prison establishment”.
Aside from the illegality of the act, a lawyer who preferred not to be identified said that keeping detainees of both sexes together was “an act of moral and psychological violence against women”.
“The principle of human dignity presupposes that there are limits with regard to women’s privacy,” the lawyer said.
The arrests and the profiling of street vendors continue.