The remains of a former Angolan commander of the rebel group UNITA (Portuguese acronym for National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) were repatriated from South Africa Thursday. General Arlindo Chenda Pena, popularly known as Ben Ben, died in 1998 in South Africa. His remains will be reburied in his homeland in Bie Province in the central region of Angola.
In the mid-1990s, Pena held the post of deputy army chief of staff in the Angolan army during a fragile peace process. In 2002, UNITA became the main opposition party at the end of a civil war that started in 1975 after gaining independence from Portugal. The repatriation of the rebel commander’s body was done in an effort by Angolan President Joao Lourenco to reconcile with opposition groups.
The decision comes after a request from UNITA leader Isaías Samakuva to Lourenço, to contact his counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa, president of South Africa and give the green light for the repatriation, family members said in a statement.
South African and Angolan officials presided over a ceremony at the Waterkloof air force base for Arlindo Chenda Pena. The former military commander was evacuated to South Africa in 1998 after a diagnosis of malaria and bacterial infection. He died there after a kidney failure and pancreatic problems. At the time of his death, the Angolan government was battling UNITA rebels and the South African authorities decided to embalm his body awaiting repatriation.
Last month UNITA confirmed that the body of its rebel leader Dr Jonas Savimbi whose death in 2002 brought an end to the Angolan civil war, would be exhumed before the end of the year for a dignified reburial.
Samakuva had accused the government of denying Savimbi a "dignified burial" in what he described as "explicit evidence of its policy of exclusion". He also stressed, "the imperative need for true national reconciliation" in the country.