Aceria de Angola is a company that is turning old weapons — rifles, tanks — into steel beams. It was founded by a baker, whose business was destroyed by the bloody civil war. But the spoils presented an opportunity.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Angola’s long civil war ended in 2002, and the country is still recovering today. There’s infrastructure to build. There are long-term injuries to mend. And there’s this question – what should be done with the old tanks and rifles that litter huge tracts of land? NPR’s Eyder Peralta has this story about a company that’s melting weapons and turning them into steel.
EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Aceria de Angola has a junkyard in a rural town about two hours from the capital, Luanda.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRUCK REVERSING)
PERALTA: To see the whole place we climb on a two-story scaffold. I see a vast wasteland. The red dirt is covered with crumpled metal, old, rusty cars, mounds of motorcycles and, in the distance, big chunks of tanks languishing in the sun.
(SOUNDBITE OF METAL CLANGING)
PERALTA: A bulldozer picks up the scraps like Legos and drops them into a machine that shreds them into tiny pieces.
(SOUNDBITE OF METAL CRUNCHING)
PERALTA: Luis Silva, the guy who runs this factory, puts his hands on his waist and looks around.
When you look out here, what kind of story does this yard tell you about this country?
LUIS SILVA: (Laughter) It tells me a story of poverty and war.
PERALTA: Silva has done this kind of work in Europe. Out there, he says, the yards are littered with junk that still has some life – cars with some paint left on them. And you also get the remains of a society on the move – steel beams from relatively new buildings and factories being destroyed to make way for new ones.
SILVA: You don’t see here industrial scrap. You look for that and just a small amount of pipes comes from the oil industry. But the rest is old; very old.
PERALTA: Aceria de Angola is the brainchild of Georges Choucair. During the war, he owned a big bakery, but his delivery trucks were destroyed. And when it was all over, he saw a country with the need and means to rebuild. In the steel business, he saw money. But he also saw a parallel between his old life and what would become his new one.
GEORGES CHOUCAIR: Steel is as much important than food. We need food because we need to live, but we need to have a home. And home without steel also nothing.
PERALTA: Of course, he faced many challenges building a factory in a country emerging from war. He had to invest in the power grid so he could get enough electricity, for example. But his love for Angola kept him going, he says. Once the plant was built, one of the first things they did was clear tons of war scraps from Cuito Cuanavale, the site of one of the most intense and historic battles during the Angolan Civil War.
CHOUCAIR: We now can recycle all the scrap, the war scrap, to something amazing, giving life to people.
PERALTA: Back at the factory, Luis Silva shows me how the metal scraps are melted in furnaces, how it’s poured out and turned into what look like long, black beams.
SILVA: After that we start the rolling process.
PERALTA: He says there are still lots of problems here. There are few roads to get scraps out of the center of the country. There are lots of power cuts, and employees often lose family members to what should be treatable diseases. He stops to show me the presses. They squeeze warm steel into thin rebars.
SILVA: And this is the finished product.
PERALTA: There are still problems, he says. But when he sees this new steel made from old scraps, it gives him hope. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Luanda.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRACEY CHATTAWAY’S “SHIMMER”)
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