From unrest to uncertainty

4th March 2005 at 00:00
Many Angolan families in the UK live in fear of being forced to return there, writes James Heartfield

Twelve-year-old Nsona (Natasha) Matambele of Forest Gate school in south London, was refused permission to stay in Britain despite having lived here since she was eight. That was in 1996, but Natasha did not go back - her classmates helped persuade the Home Office to back off. They contacted the media, staged protests, and involved Tony Banks, their local MP (West Ham).

At Haggerston school in Hackney, east London, Mansanga Nanga, Feliciana Nanga and Muyeke Lemba all faced deportation, but were again saved by their classmates - in a similar way to Natasha's. All were threatened with deportation to Angola.

There are 20,000 Angolans living in the UK, the majority of lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) Africans, along with some Mozambicans, mostly in east and southeast London. Most came in the 1990s, fleeing a civil war that had torn the country apart over a quarter of a century. Jonas Savimbi's Unita guerrillas were supported by America, South Africa and Britain to destabilise the country after it won independence from Portugal in 1975.

Many children were either born here, or arrived when they were very young.

Their parents, mostly Catholic, speak Portuguese, but want their children to learn English. Some families have been traumatised by war, but according to Carlos Alonso de Silva of the Angolan Community in London, the biggest anxiety they face now is about their right to remain.

The Home Office has been blowing hot and cold as the situation in Angola changes. Peace talks between Unita and the Government in 1998 were used as an excuse to expel Angolans from the UK. But in the same year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees asked Britain to stop, only to have them begin again, on a more restricted basis in May, 1999, in spite of evidence of press-ganging and sex-trafficking. With Savimbi's death in 2002 and the end of the civil war, Angolans in the UK are liable to be sent back.

Angolan schools are rudimentary and educate everybody to primary level, but much fewer to secondary. Children here want to fit in and identify with Anglo-American culture as much as they do with Africa.


Though students from Angola, or other parts of lusophone Africa, have Portuguese-speaking parents, they want to learn English. Uncertainty over leave to remain may cause problems at home, which can put a strain on children. Few pupils now are likely to have first-hand experience of the civil war, so don't assume they are traumatised.


* Angolan Embassy, 22 Dorset Street, London W1U 6QY. Tel: 020 7299 9850;

* Angolan Community in London is at the Migrant and Refugee Centre, 2 Thorpe Close, London, W10 5XL Telfax: 020 8257 32050208 281 9794; www.refugeesonline;org.ukangolancommunity

* The Africa Centre stocks Portuguese books from Mozambique. 38 King Street, London WC2E 8JT Tel: 020 7836 1973

* Children's books in Portuguese are available from Mantra Lingua, Global House, 303 Ballards Lane, London, N12 8NP. Tel: 020 8445 5123;; or from the Portuguese Embassy, 11 Belgrave Square, London SW1X 8PP. Tel: 0870 005 6970; or Manchester Central Library, St Peter's Square, M2 5PD Tel: 0161 234 1900;


English - Portuguese - Sounds like

Hello - Ola! - Ollah!

Good morning - Bom dia - Bawm deer

Sit down, please - Sente se, por favor - Seynteh ser, pore-favore

Do you want the toilet? - Voce quer o toalete? - Vosay ker o to-al-eteh?

Quiet, please - Quieto, por favor

Attention, please! - Desculpe se faz favor! - Dishkoolpser fash fer-voar!

Good night - Boa noite - Boaer noyt

Good bye - Adios - Er-deoosh

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