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Luanda - the smell stays with you

In some parts of Luanda it looks like money grows on trees, if the fancy houses, sports cars and million dollar yachts are anything to go by. But then it hits you - the smell of waste, human and plastic.

Sometimes when you're close to the beach, that in part is similar to Camps Bay in Cape Town, there's a faint smell of the sea. The bamboo and salt water smell, which in Cape Town we don't like that much, is a welcome relief from the putrid stench that hangs over the city.

In some areas, like Terra Nova - which means New Place - the street market sells every household item you can think of. There are bras for ladies, cleaning products and meat in open, unrefrigerated conditions. Steaks are stacked like books, covered in dust and crawling with flies.

One stretch of the street is a swamp, where water, dust and rubbish lie together and even metres away the overwhelming stink attacks your senses. The people who live there and those manning the stalls under their picnic umbrellas don't seem to mind. They're used to the smell and, quite frankly, cannot do much about it. So they step around the water, move their tables further away as the rubbish gets closer, and they go about their business.

How is this possible in a city that sells thousands of Porsches, (mostly the Cayenne model because the poor state of the roads will ruin a Boxster) and where millions of dollars are used to build thousands of executive apartments where no-one lives?

Locals simply point up a hill in south Luanda where president José Eduardo dos Santos built his compound. They say the hill is surrounded by landmines, so that no-one dares to attack the presidential palace. No-one knows if this is truth or rumour, but no-one had tried to test it either.

They say he, his family and cronies keep all the money for themselves. They buy aeroplanes and send their children to school in the United States, and when they want to go anywhere in Luanda, the roads are closed so they can sail through with no impediments.

The cost of living in Luanda is extremely high, but those with billions of dollars stashed away probably don't even notice that a pizza sets you back R240, for a basic margharita, toppings are extra. A single cider like Savannah goes for R40 and buying one portion of braaied chicken off a street market will cost you R160.

Now the ruling party, the MPLA, has promised to reduce prices of basic products to make living easier for ordinary citizens. But the cost is only a part of what makes living in Luanda a tale of great hardship.

Roads in the city centre and along the new beachfront have been tarred and fitted with working traffic lights, but in the suburbs you need a 4x4. Beaten up Toyota Corollas line the streets where owners just abandoned them - the poor cars simply couldn't take it anymore.

The contrast between the haves and the have-nots are nowhere starker than in Luanda. And probably in this lifetime, the two will never meet. But they will have one thing in common - the stench of poverty and neglect.

Mandy Rossouw is an Eyewitness News Reporter.

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