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June 2010

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Luandan Brussels identities from A to Z

“To think I had to come all the

way from unruly Angola only to witness the breakdown of this little country,” Honorine Lusekumbanza Makaya cries out in disbelief, as we interview her on the day the Belgian government stepped down over the intractable question of BHV. Originally from the north of Angola, Honorine, after having lived in the country’s capital Luanda for a while, fled to Brussels in 1983. Today, she dreams of moving back to Luanda.


love Angola tremendously, but it’s a difficult country. My heart bleeds just thinking about it. I couldn’t stay there myself, because of many circumstances. As a child, I lived in Kinshasa [capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo] and CongoBrazzaville. In the Belgian Congo, the Angolans were actively discriminated against – not especially by the Belgians, because they saw no difference between peoples: to them, black was black – but by the Congolese themselves. I remember bullying at school – we learned to hide the fact that we were Angolans. So I can’t say it meant much to me, the independence of Congo in 1960. It didn’t improve our treatment. What a difference with CongoBrazzaville, where Angolans were greeted as family members – we were entre nous there. I didn’t return to my home country until two years after Angolan independence in 1975. The joy of coming home was

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“As soon as we’re able to buy a property in Angola, we’re off”

Honorine with her husband Joaquim, near their favourite Cameroonian restaurant, Les Tropiques. “We Angolans don’t have our own restaurants and bars; we gather in clubs like mine – Alegria, Association des Femmes Angolaises de Belgique – and in African places, such as Cameroonian and Congolese restaurants. But through our language, we are also akin to the Brazilians, the Cap Verdeans and the Portuguese.”

great. But there was also a lot of fear: there was a failed coup d’état in 1977 and the country then entered into a devastating civil war which lasted until 2002, leaving half a million dead. The country was in complete ruins. I myself became ill after the birth of my first child; if I had stayed in Angola, I don’t think I would have survived. When I arrived in Brussels in 1983, I was shocked. I wanted to go back right away. And I can’t say that my feelings have changed much ever since. In Angola, I was a respected member of society – I had a degree in psychology and had an executive function at a ministry. But the Belgians thought it more fitting for me to do cleaning jobs. I was black and came from a developing country, so I had to do the dirty jobs. We knew slightly what Europe was like, as my husband had had scholarships at European universities. Still, our

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 In praise of: The Atomium is the symbol of Belgium, when it was still a unified country, with nine balls representing the nine provinces. Those were the days of ‘l’Union fait la force’... But we also send visiting friends to other historical sites, such as the magnificent Cinquantenaire arch – I know, built with blood from the Congo – and to the Manneken Pis, of whom I always heard that when Brussels once burned, he smothered the fire. I prefer him with a costume on, though – in our culture, public nudity is not done.

acquaintance with the western mentality remained as a shock. My husband told me about his first night in Europe, in a shelter for the homeless. He was at his wits’ end – he was crying, his head in his hands, when a homeless person said: “You come from afar and you get a roof over your head, be glad. We’re from here, and we don’t even have a home.” That makes you think... Today, I notice that Brussels has ever more homeless people, ever more dirt, ever more insecurity. It’s time to do something about it. All in all, Brussels is a very difficult city to really love. That’s down to me as well: I’m always thinking about returning. As soon as we’re able to buy a property in Angola, we’re off. As soon as I’m back in Angola, I would like to return every year for a month to Brussels. But would I really miss it here? My friends, yes. And also, I would no longer be able to hop on a train to Ostend and have shrimp croquettes with some good Belgian beer. That I would miss. That I give Portuguese language lessons to children of Angolan parents in Brussels, is not a pure matter of language. These children need a good knowledge of Portuguese, if they ever want to go and live in Angola. In Angola, you’re not considered truly ‘Angolan’, when you don’t have a mastery of the official language, Portuguese. It was like that before, it’s like that now. As a North Angolan,

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We occasionally go to eat in the best African restaurant in Brussels: Gri Gri in Uccle (16 Rue Basse). Hostess Augustine is Congolese and married to a Belgian. Out of which results a good mix, though the cuisine is very much African. We also go to the Cameroonian restaurant Les Tropiques (43 Rue aux Laines) in the Marolles – delicious and authentic!” The magnificent Museum of Central Africa in Tervuren, another legacy of colonialism... I go and walk there sometimes, and look at the art. Those masks from so many African cultures, gorgeous. As Bantus, we have a shared artistic language that crosses borders. This makes for solidarity.

I know what I’m talking about: we used to speak mainly French, so we were seen as ‘Les Zairos’ and treated like dirt. You must be aware that there are many languages in Angola, and only the affluent can send their children to private schools to get a proper education. This means that many people speak their own language and have little chance to speak Portuguese. What’s striking is that the Angolan community in Belgium suffers from the same mentality. That surprised me when I arrived here. But I’m much angrier about the complete mess that the Belgians are making of their unique country. I mean, come on: splitting up Belgium in the midst of an economic crisis! The Belgians should set an example to Europe, something they did for such a long time. My husband says that the Flemish, who for so long were suppressed by the French-speakers, only have one thing left in mind: revenge! Even in the Belgian Congo, the Flemish were discriminated against – to the Frenchspeakers they were on the same level as “the negroes”. But if the Flemish could forget this past, they could take on a constructive attitude. Within the Angolan community in Brussels, we have the same kind of problems, really, but I see a change for the better: people are beginning to realise the silliness of it all. The Angolan Embassy is an important factor: they make a deliberate choice to invite everyone, without making distinctions. What’s more, those of the privileged class are a bit lost in Brussels, because they don’t speak French very well. And those that are frowned upon in Angola for speaking French rather than Portuguese, have the advantage, of course, in Brussels. But Portuguese remains the language that unites all Angolans – all 18 provinces, with their own languages and differences. Through my Portuguese lessons I hope to unite the Angolans of Brussels. What’s still very difficult in Angola itself, might just work here.”  Interview by Veerle Devos & Kristof Dams Image by Veerle Devos

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Brussels identities from A to Z: Luandan  
Brussels identities from A to Z: Luandan  

“To think I had to come all the way from unruly Angola only to witness the breakdown of this little country,” Honorine Lusekumbanza Makaya c...