Monday, September 3, 2012

Postcards of Pre-Independence Luanda

Escola Industrial, c.1960

Yesterday's descriptions of the remarkable infrastructure of mid-century Angola reminded me of my collection of vintage postcards of various African cities. The most-often repeated description of Luanda, other than being crowned the world's most expensive city in the 2011 Mercer survey, is that it now teems with 4 million people, being one of the most pronounced examples of a small colonial capital, built for a few hundred thousands, now crowded with more inhabitants than the entire country had at independence.

 Luanda, 1950

 Aerial views of Luanda, 1955-60

Porto Largo Diogo Cao

Luanda has been experiencing a construction boom as the oil bonanza has dominated the city, but it has long been regarded as one of southern Africa's most beautiful cities, with its waterfront corniche. These postcards, from the 1940s, when the city had about 60,000 inhabitants, til about 1970, when it had grown to about half a million, show a smart, modern city, with huge technical works for emptying out the interior, as seen in yesterday's post.

While this tidy, mannered capital was then considered an integral part of the Portuguese state, and was divided unevenly between a tiny white elite and a native population, its a shame that so little of this place remains. This originally city, like so many 20th century plans of Africa's capitals, is being made over into an imitation Dubai, in Luanda's case, explicitly so. Perhaps that Gulf emirates are not the models to solve urban Africa's problems, and perhaps its useful to remember that these places are not starting out as clean slates.

 Waterfront Vistas, c.1965

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