The body of Angola’s former President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who died in Spain in Julyhas arrived in the Angolan capital Luanda.
The transfer of the former president’s body on Saturday comes amid a tense election campaign and ended a weeks-long feud between the Angolan government, dos Santos’ widow and some of his children over when and where he would be buried.
A few dozen people gathered at Luanda airport to greet the coffin of the former leader, who ruled Angola from 1979 to 2017.
Some clapped as the coffin, draped in the Angolan flag, was carried away, followed by a convoy of black cars while more took to the streets to watch the convoy go by. Some cheered, others chanted “Ze Du!”, nickname of dos Santos, footage posted on social media was shown.
“The remains of Jose Eduardo dos Santos have arrived in Angola after a long wait,” Government Minister Marcy Lopes told reporters shortly after the coffin was lifted from the plane.
The funeral is expected to take place on August 28, Dos Santos’ birthday, said Rui Falcao, a spokesman for the ruling MPLA party.
There has been uncertainty about the final resting place of the former president for weeks. Dos Santos died on July 8 at the age of 79 in a clinic in Barcelona where he was being treated after a long illness.
Had lawyers representing dos Santos’ daughter, Tchize successfully requested conducted a full autopsy citing alleged “suspicious circumstances” of his death without presenting any evidence and had asked that he be buried in the Spanish city of Barcelona.
A Spanish judge on Wednesday ruled the death a natural one, ruled out third-party negligence and allowed dos Santos’ remains to be released to his widow Ana Paula.
The judge also granted authorization for “the repatriation and international transfer of [dos Santos’s] remains to Angola”.
The repatriation came days before Angolans went to the polls in a national vote on Wednesday.
President Joao Lourenco launched his party’s campaign last month, urging people to vote for the MPLA to honor dos Santos’ legacy. The MPLA, which was dos Santos’ party and is Lourenco’s, has ruled Angola since it gained independence from Portugal in 1975.
“It seems like a very transparent maneuver to monopolize the media as usual,” Jon Schubert, a political anthropologist and Angola expert at the University of Basel, told Reuters, referring to the transfer of dos Santos’ body.
Most Angolan media are controlled by the state.
Wednesday’s vote, which will see voters elect a new parliament and president, is likely to be the closest since the country’s first multiparty elections in 1992.
The former president’s daughter Tchize, who requested that her father’s body be buried in Barcelona, accused Lourenco in an Instagram post of using his body as a campaign tool, which she called a “disgrace to the world”.
Critics also feared the repatriation was an attempt to divert attention from main opposition UNITA’s campaign and the electoral process. UNITA is stronger than ever and anger is growing at the government’s failure to convert vast oil wealth – Angola is Africa’s second largest oil producer – into better living conditions for all.
During dos Santos’ nearly four-decade tenure, members of his family benefited from the nation’s oil wealth while most Angolans remained mired in poverty. When he resigned in 2017, dos Santos handed power to former defense minister Lourenco.
But Lourenco quickly turned on the former president, unleashing an anti-corruption campaign to recover billions he suspected had been embezzled as part of dos Santos, a campaign targeting the former president’s family.
Dos Santos has never specifically responded to allegations that he allowed corruption to run rampant.
At a campaign rally on Saturday, Lourenco told a cheering crowd that the MPLA had “broken” and “really taken up the fight against it” the corruption taboo.
Justin Pearce, a history lecturer at South Africa’s University of Stellenbosch, said while Lourenco fought for support, he didn’t believe there was “a deep nostalgia for dos Santos in Angolan society”. He said that Lourenco’s anti-corruption action was aimed at gaining “some legitimacy among the populace.”
In Luanda, some MPLA supporters said the return of the ex-president’s body to Angola was important to them.
“We Angolans are proud to welcome the remains of President dos Santos and that he can have a dignified burial,” said Telma Pilartes, one of the Angolans who had come to Luanda Airport to greet the arrival of the former leader’s coffin to see.
“For us, his return to Angola before the elections shows how important it was for him to bring peace to our country,” said Sonia, an MPLA supporter who attended the party’s rally on Saturday.
Dos Santos’ eldest daughter Isabel, meanwhile, who has been facing a series of investigations into her multinational businesses, took to Instagram to express her sadness at not being able to attend her father’s funeral.
“You took me to the altar and … I won’t be able to take you to your last (resting) place,” she wrote. “They snatched you from my arms.”