Because our arrival in Luanda with the confiscation of our passports and the disappearance of our luggage was so front-and-center in our visit to Angola, my Top Ten Famous Angolans List is a post-script to the country rather than a preview.
Famous Angolans in Politics
Queen Nzinga Bandi
Ngola Mbandi Nzinga Bandi Kia Ngola – the Queen whose arrow always finds its target – was a major figure in the 16th-century (59th century of the Africa era) resistance to the European slave trade.
King Mandume ya Ndemufayo
King Mandume (1894-1917) was the last king of the Ovambo people in southern Angola and northern Namibia. He died while his royal residence was under fire by South African forces. He is honored as a hero in both Angola and Namibia.
Dr. António Agostinho Neto
António Agostinho Neto (1927-1979) was the first president of Angola from 1975-1979. He led the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the war for independence (1961-1974) from Portugal. He was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize for 1975-76 by the Soviet Union. He died in Moscow after surgery. His birthday, September 17, is a national holiday. He is also revered as a premier Angolan poet.
Jonas Savimbi (1934-2002) was rebuffed for a leadership position in Neto’s MPLA and subsequently became the leader of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). While Neto was supported by the Soviet Union, Savimbi went to China for help and eventually drew the attention of Americans.
He was killed in a shoot out with Angolan government troops in 2002.
José Eduardo Dos Santos
José Eduardo Dos Santos (born 1942) was the long-running president of Angola from 1979-2017. He was also commander in chief of the Angolan Armed Forces and the MPLA, the party that has ruled Angola since it gained independence in 1975.
He is succeed in the Angolan Presidency by João Lourenço (born 1954).
Famous Angolans in the Arts
Alda Lara (1930-1962) was a poet born to a wealthy family. She studied at Lisbon University and lived in Lisbon for 13 years before returning to Angola in 1961.
Arthur Carlos Mauricio Pestana dos Santos (born 1941) is a novelist known for writing about the political history of Angola in the 20th century. He fought as a member of the MPLA (a theme in this blog) in the war for Angola’s independence. During that time he got his nom de guerre Pepetela which means ‘eyelash’ in Kimbundu, a translation of his maternal family name Pestana. (His paternal family name is dos Santos.)
In 1997 he received the Prémio Camões, the highest prize in Lusophone (Portuguese-language) literature.
José Adelino Barcelo de Cavralhó ( born 1942), known as Bonga, is a folk and semba singer-songwriter.
Listen to his Mulemba Xangola Live:
In 2014 he received the Knights of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government.
Gotta love the one-named famous Angolans. Given their complicated birth names, the nicknames work well. Ndalu de Almeida (born 1977) isn’t that complicated but still Ondjaki is short and sweet. He’s a poet, memorist, short story writer and even made a documentary film May Cherries Grow about his native city.
His first of many awards came in 2008 with the Grinzane for Africa Prize in the category Best Young Writer.
Is he famous in Angola? Sure enough, in almost the first magazine I pick up and leaf through in Luanda, Rivista Mundo Jovem, I spy an article about the one-named writer Ondjaki.
Famous Angolans: In a Class by Herself
Isabel Dos Santos
Isabel dos Santos (born 1973) is the eldest child for former Angolan president José Eduardo dos Santos (see above) and the richest woman in Africa.
More about her I don’t have much to say except for the interesting little tidbit that she was born in Baku, Azerbaijan (which was then an SSR) to Russian-born Tatiana Kukanova.
See also: Ten Famous Ethiopians
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen