Journeys to inspire walking tall.

Author:Versi, Anver
 
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LEONEL DA ROCHA PINTO

Angola

FROM REFUGEE CAMP TO BOARD DIRECTOR

The story of an astonishing journey

1976: A refugee camp on the border between Angola and Namibia.

A bleak, desolate area not far from the Namibian town of Rundu is now home to thousands of traumatised Angolans, innocent victims of one of Africa's most brutal civil wars. It's a proxy war between the US and the USSR and it has dragged in armies from apartheid South Africa and Cuba. This is also the unlikely site of one of the most astonishing stories of courage, determination and outstanding success in modern Africa.

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One family, a mother and her three sons, the oldest of whom is 14 years old, huddle together in the teeming refugee camp. The past year has been horrible beyond imagination. Ironically, it had begun in great hope. The Rocha Pinto family, with six sturdy children had, like millions of their country folk, celebrated Angola's independence in 1975 in style.

They lived on a large, well organised farm in the Kwanza Sul, one of the richest provinces in the south of the country. The father was at the centre of the social and political life of the community. With the detested Portuguese colonial overlords finally ejected from the country, the future looked bright and full of promise.

That was before rivalry between the world's two superpowers, the US and the USSR, plunged Angola into a bitter civil war that was to last until 2002. Almost overnight, the country was in flames. Fighting between the proxy armies supporting each side of the war was most intense in the south of the country. As usual, civilians, caught in the crossfire suffered the most.

The priority for the Rocha Pinto family, as for other families, was how best to survive in a world gone violently mod. The father decided to take half his family and make a dash for the capital, Luanda. Once he had found a safe haven for his children, he could return for those left behind: his wife and his three sons. The eldest of the three, Leonel, was 13 years old. "You are the man now," his father told him. "Look after your mother and your younger brothers until I return."

The war became worse, and the countryside was a planted thick with mines. Children's missing limbs multiplied. There was fear and terror everywhere.

With the war now raging all around them, and with no news from Leonel's father, the family in Kwanza Sul knew it was too dangerous to remain on the farm. Had their father and siblings made...

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