Terror in Mozambique: Between 10 and 15 South Africans still missing in Palma insurgent attacks
Pretoria has accounted for 43 of the South Africans caught up in the major insurgent assault on the northern Mozambique town of Palma over the past few days — but 10 to 15 citizens still remained unaccounted for.
In Palma, there was still sporadic gunfire on Monday after the Mozambique army finally arrived in town on Sunday, sources said. It was unclear how much of the town it controlled. Most of the insurgents were believed to have retreated from the Palma on Saturday night.
Max Dyck, of the South African private security company Dyck Advisory Group (DAG) told Daily Maverick that DAG’s helicopters continued to fly and to rescue people stranded by the fighting on Monday.
Insurgents believed to be from a local Islamist organisation called Ansar al-Sunna or Allu Sunna wa Jama or al-Shabaab, attacked Palma on Wednesday afternoon. The group has affiliated itself to the global Islamic State terror group that has claimed responsibility for the attack on its website.
So far, the South African government has confirmed one South African death — that of Adrian Nel, 40, who was shot when he, his father and brother drove into an insurgent ambush while trying to escape from the besieged Amarula Lodge in a convoy of 17 vehicles on Friday.
Clayson Monyela, spokesperson for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) said South Africa’s High Commission in Maputo had so far managed to account for 43 of the South Africans affected by the attacks. They had been in the Afungi area. Afungi is the large plant which the French energy company Total is building about 15km north of Palma, to process offshore liquid natural gas.
Most of the South Africans affected by the violence — including Nel — were contractors at Afungi.
Monyela said the 43 it had accounted for included two men who fled into the bush during the attacks on the Amarula Hotel convoy on 26 March and a young South African who hid and was found by search and rescue helicopters.
“Some of these nationals are already back home whilst others have been moved to safe areas within Mozambique,” Monyela said.
However, South Africa’s High Commissioner to Mozambique Siphiwe Nyanda told Daily Maverick that 10 to 15 South Africans who had been in the area at the time of the insurgent attacks remained unaccounted for.
He said about 200 South Africans had been living and working in the Palma-Afungi area. Most of these were fine. But the 10 to 15 were people whom others had reported as having possibly been caught up in the violence.
“But they might be in Pemba or anywhere,” Nyanda said, referring to Cabo Delgado’s main town, 230km south of Palma, to where most of the expatriate survivors of the attack and others had been evacuated.
International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor said: “I’m pleased to learn that a number of our citizens are safe. I believe that more who might be in dire circumstances should and will be assisted.”
Nyanda declined to comment on opinions expressed by other analysts that the Palma attacks should be a wake-up call for the Southern African Development Community to find a way to deal decisively with the Mozambican insurgents. He referred that question to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office.
Pandor said: “As a region, we hope we could do more in order to support our friendly country in the region, Mozambique.”
“The High Commission remains seized with a track-and-trace process to determine whether there are any more South Africans who may have been affected,” Monyela said.
“The services provided by the High Commission include assisting South African citizens with emergency medical evacuation, obtaining emergency travel documentation and securing international flight transfers.” DM