Portrait photo of Teresa
© Goethe-Institut Angola

Teresa is 38 years old and a zungueira. That's the name of the street vendors in Luanda who offer their goods on every corner, balancing a plastic basket on their head. They play a major role in the collective memory of the city, because even in the darkest hours of the civil war, they provided the citizens of Luanda with all the necessities of life.

By Raimundo Salvador and Maximilian Wemhöner

Smilingly, however, Teresa admits that she did not consider it to be a decent job when she was a young girl. "I would have never imagined becoming a zungueira myself." Today Teresa sells fruits and vegetables that she gets twice a week at Luanda's cheap suburban markets. She mainly sells in the area around a major traffic junction in the city centre. Twenty years ago she and some of her friends decided to sell their goods together. By joining forces, they were able to secure this popular spot in the city centre. In the last years the life of street vendors became much harder though: they are no longer exempt from sales tax. Ever since, inspections by tax authorities and police occur even more often than before. Teresa talks about the frequent confiscation of her goods, the clearance of her warehouse and about being beaten up by the police. Once, she was beaten so badly that the then pregnant street vendor feared for the life of her unborn child. "Graças a deus" - Thank god, she says, her son was born healthy after all. However, he had a birthmark on his arm which Teresa attributes to one of the blows to her abdomen.
The reason why Teresa does not throw the towel, despite the violence from the authorities, is the future of her five children: her husband has been unemployed for the last eight years and only works occasionally as a driver. Teresa is the main provider of the family. She is determined to give her children a good life. All of them attend school which means, in addition to her rent, every month Teresa has to pay 19,000 AOA school fees, provide money for books and supplies and cover over 50,000 AOA travel expenses. Considering that as a zungueira she has to spend 70,000 AOA weekly to purchase goods, the great effort behind all this emerges clearly. Sometimes, when for example the police have raided her house once again and confiscated her goods, she still struggles to making ends meet and is forced to ask a sister-in-law for some money. However, now that the economic crisis and the repercussions of the pandemic have also left their mark on her actually well-off sister-in-law, this is no longer an option, and none of Teresa's twelve siblings can help either. In moments like this, Teresa greatly worries about the street kids in her neighbourhood, to whom she always slips a bit of food despite her own struggles. Then she tells herself: "this must not happen to my children!"
The story of Teresa's own life is one of social decline. Full of hope, her parents moved to the capital from the province of Malanje, where her father had found a good job. The family was able to afford to rent a spacious house from the state housing cooperative. But only a few years after Teresa was born, her father lost his job. The family had to move to provisional housing in a musseque (Angolan for shantytown) behind the airport, where the family of 14 had to make do with three small rooms. At least Teresa could still attend school. She was good at maths and dreamed of becoming an accountant. But then the second social disaster happened: she fell pregnant at the age of 16. With a heavy heart, her father made Teresa leave school, marry the boy and move in with him.

For Teresa, her entire hopes for a better life were dashed at once. Ashamed of the disappointment she had caused her father, she considered suicide. She calls it her trauma. Isolated from her family, school and friends, she now had to take care of a small child. Her young husband did not have a job either and could hardly provide for the family. Teresa says that it was her mother who eventually gave her new prospects in life. She asked Teresa to take her fate into her own hands and give everything to make sure her children would be better off one day. Mother and daughter only saw one option: Teresa, who until now had looked down on the work of the zungueiras, had to become a street vendor herself.
20 years and four children later, Teresa still balances her basket with goods across the streets, but now with her head held high. Despite police harassment, economic crisis and pandemic she will continue, because she has already achieved so much for her family. Her eldest daughter is about to graduate from polytechnic school and is attending classes paving the way for a successful career, and the younger ones are meant to succeed too. Teresa is very determined to be the last zungueira in her family.