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1,300 kilometers through the wilderness. On foot, in crumbling sneakers, in a T-shirt and sweatpants. Constant rain, in the way of rivers and swamps. No drugs. To eat corn porridge with a little worms. Another 1,800 kilometers on the hulls of old trucks. Two and a half months on the road. The youngest was two years old. Czechoslovak experts and their families were abducted by soldiers from the Angolan rebel movement UNITA. It all ended on June 23, 1984.
It was complete improvisation. The soldiers had the task of liquidating the factory and the electricity supply. They did not know that there was a group of Czechoslovak experts in the town of Alto Catumbela who put the paper mill and pulp mill into operation. And that there are their wives and children.
What about them? The easiest way would be to shoot them – and they were initially inclined to do so at first. Then came the command from the leadership: bring them to the base. UNITA has a chance to show the world how much territory it controls. And above all: to get Czechoslovakia to official negotiations, and thus de facto political recognition.
Improvisation and madness. They picked them up in what they were wearing. Petr Kocian, who was 11 at the time, had spartakiad exercises on his feet. He was wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt. It never occurred to him in a dream that equipped in this way could survive more than a two-month march of bushes, crossing rocks, wading across rivers and swamps.
They were not allowed to take anything with them. No clothes, food, medicine. Not that the soldiers were thoughtfully cruel. They didn’t want to take any chances – what if they had guns in those bags.
About 1,500 soldiers of the UNITA rebel movement occupied Alto Catumbella on March 13, 1983.
We were fine here
Angola has lived in the war since 1961. At first it was a war for independence from Portugal. It was smoothly followed in 1975 by a civil war between the left-wing government movement MPLA and the opposition movement UNITA.
The Civil War took place in the context of the Cold War. The government had the support of Cuba and the Soviet Union. The insurgents were supported by the United States and South Africa.
Czechoslovak experts and their families thus became part of the armed conflict and politics. They didn’t care. Their task was to start production in a local factory.
“We were very well there,” recalls Lubomír Sazeček. The Czechoslovaks had a swimming pool, a shop with imported European goods, a club where, for example, the day before the attack they celebrated the birthday of one of the members of the expedition. They lived in nice houses. And the street between them became the cultural and social center of Alto Catumbela. The locals named it Czech.
Beautiful mild nature. Heartfelt nice people. At least in relation to Czechoslovaks.
On the morning of March 13, they heard gunfire. At first, they didn’t take it too seriously – they were shot often. Everyone had a gun and the shooting dealt with infidelity, for example.
But then machine-gun fire blew up several houses and soldiers appeared everywhere. It was clear that it was wrong.
“For our translator, Saša Ivan, the machine guns completely tore up the house,” Sazeček describes. “He managed to get to a place where he was protected by walls from all sides, sitting on the ground and drinking beer. And he said to himself, ‘I will give you nothing to *.’ “
A moment later, Ivan was on his way with everyone else.
“It simply came to our notice then. That man works like a robot, “recalls Marek Novotný, who was 7 years old at the time of the abduction. “He gets up in the morning, puts something in himself, goes all day, falls to the ground, where he falls, falls asleep. And in the morning he goes again… “
Eleven-year-old Petr Kocian initially perceived the trip as an adventurous trip. To this day, he remembers a romantic sunrise in the bush or the roar of lions. But even after two weeks, he was tired and lethargy.
The only food was corn porridge. The flour was carried by soldiers in bags on their backs. She was soaked with their sweat. Often solidified by rain. It was not flavored at all, and often even exhausted and hungry prisoners were unable to eat it.
At times, the soldiers improved it with pieces of dried meat wormed.
There was a shortage of water, she was on rations, a few gulps a day. And she came from everywhere: From lagoons, rivers, puddles. There was no choice.
The inevitable consequence was disease. Diarrhea, vomiting, general exhaustion. Those who could no longer walk were carried by soldiers on improvised stretchers. The youngest girl, who was two years old, had high fevers for weeks, cried and there was no way to calm her down.
Adults lost twenty pounds during the journey. And some got beyond their means.
“I was after surgery on both hips. I thought that if I went to Angola with my husband, I would rest, “says Eva Janečková. “It did not work. The first day after the kidnapping, I had big problems. My husband sometimes carried me on his back, pushed me or dragged me up into the hills. At first, there was no stretcher yet. Gradually, I was in such pain that I asked the soldiers to shoot me. “
Exhaustion broke one of the men. He ate a ration of food for his son. His wife started beating him, but he defended himself: “Children don’t care. We can have another. But in order to have children, I have to survive. “
The African Revolutionary and the History of Angola
- The first major government in present-day Angola was the Kingdom of Congo. It was founded in the 14th century.
- In 1482, the kingdom was visited by the Portuguese explorer Diego Cao. Shortly afterwards, the King of Congo received baptism and Christianity soon became the official religion in the country.
- Trade with Portugal developed, the kingdom prospered. The Portuguese were interested in slaves, copper or ivory. The kings of Congo, in turn, provided firearms that allowed for further expansion. The capital, M´banza-Congo, which the Portuguese called Sao Salvador, was the largest slave market on Africa’s west coast.
- From the second half of the 16th century, relations between the Portuguese and the Congo began to strain. The Portuguese were increasingly greedy, imposing unequal trade conditions on the kings, and taking the inhabitants of the country into slavery. In the south of the country they created a new territory, named Ngola. And there they already behaved openly as colonizers, who made the locals second-class people.
- Congo fell into a long civil war between Portuguese opponents and allies. At the beginning of the 18th century, Beatriz Kimpa Vita, an “African revolutionary”, entered it.
- Kimpa Vita was born in 1684 into a wealthy country family. And it was obvious from a young age that it was strange – she was very intelligent, had a spiritual vision and gained a reputation as a prophet.
- During her illness in 1704, she was “visited” by St. Francis. And Kimpa Vita decided to fulfill the task she had given her. It was to unite the Congo, put an end to the civil war, restore the capital, which had been destroyed and from which all the inhabitants had been expelled. She was to stand up to the Portuguese because their government means slavery.
- She preached and gained more and more admirers. She told them that Jesus was born in the Congo and that his mother was a slave.
- In 1704, she and her supporters occupied the abandoned capital. She formed her base in the demolished local cathedral. The movement grew stronger.
- In 1706, however, the king’s soldiers captured Kim Vitu. She was sentenced to death as a witch and heretic. She was burned.
- The kingdom remained formally independent, but in fact completely dependent on Portugal. It did not officially become a Portuguese colony until 1886.
- Since 1961, the period of the War of Independence and the ensuing Civil War has begun.
- The civil war ended in 2002, when UNITA gave up armed actions and became the main opposition political party.
- After the end of the Civil War, Angola began to recover economically, mainly due to the export of its natural wealth – oil, diamonds and gold.
- Today, Angola is economically dependent on China.
“It was perhaps a miracle that we survived all this,” thinks Věra Smrčková. And it looks like a miracle. Not only one member of the expedition, Jaroslav Navrátil, survived the journey. He was sick of it from the beginning, he was exhausted, he couldn’t go.
The immediate cause of death could have been a fall from a stretcher and a blow to the head. But of course no one could find out.
It was a difficult time not only because others saw a friend die. They were struck by black thoughts: So now they see that they are failing and cannot succeed. And they’ll shoot us all.
Everyone else arrived at UNITA base in Jamba. There were already eight men waiting for them, a “quick group.” They had to travel at a faster pace because UNIT chief Jonas Savimbi wanted to show the prisoners to journalists as soon as possible.
These are tragicomic pictures – eight men are wearing new shirts and pants, they are washing and shaving. UNITA wants to show how it has treated them and treats them with respect. But those men are so thin! He can barely stand.
Women, children, and sick men were able to leave home shortly after arriving in Jamby. They passed half of Angola in unimaginable conditions. And the “trip” ended as quickly as it began.
Savimbi kept 20 men at the base as pressure on the Czechoslovak government. Eventually he achieved his.
Savimbi achieved his. Czechoslovakia officially negotiated with him. Deputy Foreign Minister Stanislav Svoboda flew to Jamba for the prisoners.
And he promised that Czechoslovakia would not supply weapons to the Angolan government.
On June 23, 1984, the last twenty victims of the abduction returned to Czechoslovakia.
And after twenty-five years, Lubomír Sazeček returned to Angola. As a guide to the documentary Captured in Angola.
“I am sad from this. It’s abandoned, destroyed. It shows how much work has been wasted, “says Sazeček, looking at the places where he lived and worked in Alto Catumbele.
The soldiers, who were destroying the power lines at the time, said it didn’t matter. That when he wins, he will build everything new and better. To this day, electricity does not work in Alto Catumbele and the surrounding area.
Locals believe that someone will restore not only electricity supplies, but also the operation of the factory. But that will not happen. It would be cheaper to build a new one.
Lubomír Sazeček met Lucamba Gat in Angola. The former second UNITA man still thinks the kidnapping made sense. Like other actions of the movement, he contributed to the fact that Angola is now a country towards democracy.
In any case, Lucamba Gato became an MP and exchanged his uniform for an elegant striped shirt.
“And now I can tell you the crucial thing,” Sazeček tells Gat. “I was among those who marched. And you were sitting next to me during the release. “
They shake hands. They hug.
Lucamba Gato says, “Then we can be friends now.”