José Eduardo dos Santos. Picture: REUTERS
José Eduardo dos Santos. Picture: REUTERS

Luanda — Former Angolan leader José Eduardo dos Santos said on Friday that he will quit as head of the governing party by 2019, after the ruling MPLA denied tensions with his successor, President João Lourenço.

Dos Santos ceded the presidency to his former defence minister Lourenço following the ruling MPLA’s victory in August elections, but held on to the party’s top job.

The veteran leader, who has ruled for nearly four decades, is battling ill health and said he would retire from politics entirely by April 2019 at the latest. "I cautiously recommend that the extraordinary congress elects a new party leader in December 2018 or April 2019," he said as he opened a meeting of the MPLA’s central committee.

His intervention comes as Luanda looks to play down speculation of a rift between Dos Santos and Lourenço which has shaken the MPLA leadership. Since taking power, Lourenço has waged a crusade against corruption and targeted many appointees of his predecessor, who had held powerful roles in state businesses and institutions.

Dos Santos ruled Angola with an iron fist for 38 years during which time the country’s rich and powerful profited from the country’s vast oil reserves at the expense of the poor. His appointment of daughter Isabel to run state oil giant Sonangol was seen as a symbol of the nepotism that characterised Dos Santos’ authoritarian rule.

Prosecutors have since opened an investigation into possible graft at Sonangol under Isabel’s leadership, which Lourenço terminated in November.

The MPLA said in a statement this week that rumours of a split between Lourenço and Dos Santos were "a wave of speculation" spread in "bad faith".