From a penthouse with no roof or walls, running water or electricity, Jose Goncalves has a unique view of this wartime capital.
The bone-thin former chef lives high atop Kinaxiyi Tower, a 17-story building that was abandoned, half-finished, in downtown Luanda two decades ago. About 500 refugees from Angola's raging civil war now live in the high-rise construction site, a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of people made homeless by fighting this year.
There are poured-concrete floors and columns in Kinaxiyi Tower but little else. Gaping elevator shafts are fenced off on some floors, wide open on others. The rough concrete stairs have no banisters. Broken pipes, exposed wires and rusty steel rods threaten to trip the unwary. Rats abound.
The residents have bricked off about 50 apartments. They also have built waist-high walls of brick and broken timber on some levels. But other floors have no walls on the outside edge, simply a sheer drop, hundreds of feet down into a trash heap and swamp.
"It is very dangerous," said Laurenco Jose, a 24-year-old resident. Surprisingly, he added, only one of the dozens of small children who live and play here, high above the city, has fallen so far.
Like other residents, Jose came to Luanda early this year to flee fighting in his province. Moving into the tower, he and a friend bricked off two rooms on the 14th floor, leaving a hole for a window. To enter, visitors must leap over a gap that drops three stories.
He hauls his water 14 floors up and his waste 14 floors down. He has a mattress, a candle and a small desk covered with his ragged but treasured books. He wanted to be a cartographer. "Now I do nothing," he said sadly.
Still, he lives in relative luxury compared to Goncalves. The 55-year-old squatter sleeps in a storeroom, but otherwise his rooftop aerie has just concrete posts and a rusting crane where birds nest. "I have no other house," he said, shaking his head.
He also has no bed covers. They blew away in a stiff wind one night. So he spends his days, barefoot and shirtless, staring out through a dusty red haze at the ships in the harbor, the grand embassies on a hill and the growing misery on the streets of this once-gracious seaside capital.
By all accounts, Luanda has deteriorated sharply since the latest war began in October, 1992. After UNITA lost a U.N.-supervised election, its rebel troops loyal to Jonas Savimbi rolled across Angola and quickly captured 75% of the country. A majority of the population fled to Luanda and other government-held cities along the Atlantic coast.
"This city used to be miserable," said Peter Middlemiss, country director for CARE International. "Now, it's much worse."
The city of 2.5 million is swollen with refugees and the mutilados-- victims of land mines. Legless men and boys on rickety wooden crutches beg for food or money outside restaurants and hotels. Homeless children dig through trash and sleep beside rusted, burned-out hulks of old automobiles. Garbage gathers, sewage overflows and electricity is intermittent at best.
Those with hard currency find ways to enliven the tropical torpor. Beach bars and nightclubs fill each night with furtive diamond dealers, dusty aid workers and camera-clad correspondents. One floating club, the Loveboat, is popular, despite rumors that patrons have contracted malaria, typhoid and cholera aboard.
But the economy is paralyzed under 1,200% annual inflation. Most commerce is on the street, where hawkers peddle everything from soccer balls to giant television antennas and money-changers wave wads of near-worthless kwanzas. The only booming business is corruption, especially at the port, where relief ships unload.
"Everybody who brings things in, the question is how much will you lose," said Middlemiss. "We lost 400 tons of maize recently from a shipment of 5,900 tons. That's not too bad. The standard loss here is 30%."
Philippe Borel, operations director of the U.N.'s World Food Program, the mainstay of the country's aid effort, rerouted an arriving ship when port officials demanded that he pay bribes to unload the food and other goods. A riot resulted, with stevedores tossing one aid worker over the side.
The only hospital, Josina Machel, is badly overcrowded and critically short of food and drugs. A replacement hospital was built by the European Community and stocked with modern equipment. But it never opened, aid officials say angrily, because the government demanded vast sums for maintenance.
Humanitarian aid groups say they are reluctant to give scarce resources to a government that earns up to $3 billion a year from oil and diamonds but can't find enough to buy food and drugs for its hospitals.
The government has signaled other priorities. It allocated $15 million for the national health budget this year--one-third less than last year--but has spent millions more to import Mercedes-Benzes and other luxury cars.