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Finally, a place to call home

By Zhu Lixin | China Daily Africa | Updated: 2014-03-14 13:40


In a suburb of Luanda, locals have abandoned their shanties for something better

When Angola's 26-year civil war ended 12 years ago, hundreds of thousands of people had been killed, a million had been internally displaced and millions of landmines were scattered throughout the country.

Six years later, when Xue Yong arrived in the country, it was still rebuilding and landmine clearance was continuing. Both jobs are still far from complete.

Nevertheless, Xue, who works for China Tiesiju Civil Engineering Group Co, reckons the country has changed profoundly since 2008.

One sign is that thousands of people who used to live in dilapidated shanties in Cacuaco, a suburb of Luanda, now live in modern, brick apartment blocks that Xue's company built.

Xue, 35, married with one child, is from Hefei, capital of Anhui province, a city where the headquarters of CTCE, a subsidiary of China Railway Group Limited, is located. He is now the manager of the engineering department in CTCE's Angola subsidiary, founded in 2010 as the group's first subsidiary in Africa.

When he was told the company wanted him to go to Angola, he was anxious about his safety and living conditions, he says, but he has adapted well to life there and has made friends with many locals, even if he misses his relatives in China.

In November 2007, CTCE signed a contract with the Angolan government to build a social welfare housing project in Cacuaco.

Construction of the first phase, with nearly 10,000 apartments in 424 buildings and some government buildings and infrastructure, cost $700 million. Construction began in 2008 and was completed in 2012.

"We are not just building apartments, but are creating a totally new modern city," Xue says.

"Design plans were looked at again and again just to make sure the buildings were resource-efficient and adapted to the local climate."

At that time, Angola was seriously short of goods and materials, and the company had to ship all the construction materials, including cement and steel, from China.

To finish the first stage of the project, the company shipped 1.51 million tons of construction materials from China to Angola on 35 fully loaded vessels.

"Luanda port was so small that the ships that arrived had to wait in line for two to three months off the coast before they could come into port to be unloaded," Xue says.

"And before the materials arrived at construction sites it would take as long as eight hours for trucks to travel 35 kilometers because the road was so narrow and often jammed with vehicles."

With the completion of the new port and wider roads, things have improved. Ships now need wait for only 10 days or so to unload, and the truck journey takes about an hour.

Over the past few years Angola's light and heavy industries have also grown, and Xue's company can now buy some of the materials it needs from local firms.

When the first stage of the Cacuaco project was completed in October 2012, all apartments were inspected and given government certification.

"The project will play a vital role in improving the living conditions of the Angolan people", said Jose Eduardo dos Santos, president of Angola, when he visited the project in 2011.

CTCE has also built an office building for Mauritania's central government and the 98-km-long Yabelo-Mega road, a section of the Mombassa-Nairobi-Addis Ababa road corridor in Ethiopia.

CTCE says its projects in Africa have provided jobs for more than 3,000 local people.

"During the first stage of the Cacuaco project, the skilled workers were all Chinese because locals were mostly inexperienced," Xue says. "Now, with the second stage, it's good to see locals beginning to play a more important role. They are smart and easygoing."

Xue says that when the company first arrived in Cacuaco, communication between the Chinese and the Portuguese-speaking workers was difficult, and the Chinese were made to attend Portuguese classes.

As daily communication became easier, some of the locals gradually began to speak some Chinese. Now skills training for the Angolans is much easier, he says.

After training, the locals can now do work that demands extra skill or experience, such as management, on the second stage of the project, in which 5,000 apartments are being built.

One of them, Alberto, 35, came from the countryside of Cacuaco and worked for a Lebanese company as a cleaner before joining CTCE in June 2012. He had received no formal education but is now a skilled wall plasterer and painter.

"After the war, unemployment was still high," Alberto says. "CTCE offered me a good job that I found very satisfying."

Alberto says he is paid more than 30,000 kwanza ($310) a month, and is given free accommodation and food, meaning he, his wife, two children and his parents, can live comfortably.

When he is not working, one of his great pleasures is football.

"We Angolans love playing football," he says. "Perhaps it is part of our nature."

The company has laid down a football field in front of the workers' quarters, so they can enjoy a kick-around, or something a little more serious, after work.

"I have seen many of my compatriots move from their shanties into these new buildings," Alberto says. "As someone working with CTCE, I feel very proud to have contributed to all these great changes."


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