"At Least in Those Days We Had Enough to Eat": Colonialism, Independence, and the Cold War in Catumbela, Angola, 1974-1977

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Book Chapter

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Local Consequences of the Global Cold War


Between 1974 and 1977, the Sociedade Agricola do Cassequel, Angola's most technologically advanced and profitable sugar plantation, located in Catumbela with over 5,000 employees, went from being an important asset in the financial and industrial empire of Portugal's Espirito Santo family to a state-owned symbol of the promises and failures of independent Angola's Marxist-Leninist economic plan. The story of Cassequel's decline, set within the tumultuous years of revolution and civil war, are paradigmatic of the local effects of the Cold War in Angola. For the Angolans who had relied on Cassequel for their livelihoods, this change meant unemployment and subsistence agriculture. In interviews conducted nearly thirty years after these events, former workers all told of their excitement and anticipation for a future without colonialism. The most common grievance against colonialism and Cassequel in particular was low wages. A more subtle and yet universally shared complaint was best summed up by Faustino Alfredo, who had worked for Cassequel as a relatively well paid nurse: "Colonialism was humiliation." Workers, however, also spoke well of Cassequel. They described with pride the size and efficiency of the company, just as they equated plantation life, for all its difficulties, with elements of better times lost. One interviewee summed it up when he said, "At least in those days we had enough to eat." The memories of those difficult times are no less complex than the geopolitical realities in which Cassequel, Angola, and the Portuguese Empire were enmeshed in those years.


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