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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 October, 2004, 13:13 GMT 14:13 UK
TV reunites Angolan families
By Andrew Jeffrey
BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents

In Angola there is one television show that has the nation hooked, because many people consider it their only hope of finding family members they became separated from during decades of war.

Filming takes place in Independence Square
A TV message is often their only hope of tracing their loved ones
Independence Square in Luanda is much like any other African city square, with chaotic traffic encircling people jostling for taxis, and kids playing football.

But on Fridays, for hundreds of Angolans, it is transformed into somewhere very special.

The Angola Television programme Ponto de Encontro, or Meeting Point, has played an important role in the reunification of many families after 27 years of war.

For over two years, the company making the programme, Orion, has been recording messages from people in the square in the hope their relatives will see them and get in touch after being separated.

Camera positions are chalked out on the ground, television cameras set in place and the participants directed into two long lines.

The cameras roll, and the lines of men and women gradually reach the camera lens one after another.

They record their 30-second clip, sometimes holding up photographs of their missing loved ones.

But there was one message recorded in the square that made headlines in the Angolan press and on TV.

Seeking Rosalina

Victoria had been to Independence Square four times to record her message.

Victoria with members of her family
Victoria's family are reunited, but many thousands are still not
She had been trying to find her sister, Rosalina, who she had not seen for 28 years.

Both sisters had been separated by the fighting, and they had lost both their parents.

On 7 April, 2004, Rosalina saw her sister's message by chance. She contacted the Orion production offices in Luanda to check if it really was her.

It was.

Then on 11 April, 2004, the television crews went through their usual procedures, setting up the lines of participants, when Rosalina, who had just arrived in the square, suddenly made a beeline for Victoria.

The cameras followed.

Victoria recalled: "When she saw me, she threw herself into my arms, and we started to cry. I was so happy because I had spent so long without any family and suddenly I had a sister again."

It was not easy to live for so long without a father, mother or siblings
Rosalina Camala had been adopted by a couple who were also refugees. She stayed with them most of the time she was away.

Married with two children, Rosalina considers herself a happy and courageous woman, because, as she said: "It was not easy to live for so long without a father, mother or siblings."

For her part, Victoria, mother of four children said: "I am very happy to have been reunited with my sister," and she thanked Ponto de Encontro for all its work.

This was a happy ending for one family, but there are still many Angolans who have not found their relatives.

It is estimated that 90% of families have lost someone.

Going home

Like so many Angolans, Victoria dreams one day of going back to the village she came from in the province of Kwanza Sul. She said: "My dream for my future is to go back to where we came from, Kwanza Sul, and to find the rest of my wider family and have my whole family reunited once again."

Prosthetic leg
The legacies of Angola's mines are seen throughout the country
But it is not just the fracturing of families that happened in the war.

The entire infrastructure has suffered too, and mines are still a huge problem.

It is estimated that there are nearly as many unexploded mines as there are Angolans.

Mines were laid on roads and tracks all over the countryside by both sides in the conflict, Unita backed by South Africa and the United States and the MPLA backed by the former Soviet Union and Cuba.

As a result, Angolans have to fight for survival on a daily basis.

Food, schooling and health care are all in desperately short supply, but the reunification process is seen by Angolans as an important starting point.

BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents was broadcast on Thursday, 21 October, 2004 at 1100 BST.

The programme was repeated on Monday, 25 October, 2004 at 2030 BST.

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