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Angola's Savimbi saga to end on Saturday

media Jonas Savimbi, the controversial yet charismatic leader of UNITA. Lusa

Seventeen years after the leader of Angola’s rebel UNITA movement, Jonas Savimbi, was killed in a government shootout and quickly buried, the controversial leader will be given a public funeral on Saturday, a major gesture towards national unity from the current government in Luanda.

The funeral will be "an important moment in the building of national reconciliation,” according to Alcides Sakala Simoes of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).

The funeral arrangements follow discussions between UNITA, the government, and the Savimbi family. The former rebel leader will be buried beside his father in Lopitanga village, central Angola.

The thawing of relations between the government and the Savimbi family came after President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, Savimbi’s arch-enemy, stepped down in 2017 and Joao Lourenço became president.

"For 17 years, we have waited," said Isaias Samakuva, the leader of UNITA, now Angola's main opposition party.

After Angola’s independence in 1975, a civil war saw Savimbi’s UNITA, backed by the US, fighting the Marxist-Leninist People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA).

The MPLA was backed by the Soviet Union and its allies, chiefly Cuba, which contributed thousands of fighters.

In 2002, MPLA units caught up with Savimbi in Moxico province, east-central Angola. He fought back, but died in a shower of bullets, adding his name to the list of at least half a million people who were killed during the civil war that continued for 27 years.

A ceasefire was called shortly after his death.

Savimbi’s body was hastily buried in the main cemetery in the provincial capital of Luena, his grave marked by an iron cross and the name “Savimbi Jonas” carved into a nearby tree.

His supporters did not believe he was really dead, even though there was photographic evidence to prove it. Savimbi was recently disinterred and DNA tests confirmed that it was him.

While the funeral is being hailed as a reconciliation, it was not without difficulties this week when Savimbi’s remains were not handed over to the family on Tuesday as planned.

The government claimed UNITA representatives and the Savimbi family did not show up in Luena, but they were waiting 400 kilometres away in Kuito, where they claimed the handover was to take place.

UNITA said the government was "trying to humiliate" it, while the government said the party was using the situation for political gain.

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