South Africa


Cross-border transport at a standstill after tension escalates between northern KZN locals and Mozambicans

Cross-border transport at a standstill after tension escalates between northern KZN locals and Mozambicans
Passengers wait at a long-distance taxi rank in KwaZulu-Natal heading for Maputo, 9 March 2023. Some of them are informal traders who buy their goods from Durban wholesalers and transport them back to Mozambique via taxi. (Photo: Supplied)

Tension between South Africans and Mozambicans in the border area of northern KwaZulu-Natal have reached a fever pitch, and transportation between the two countries has ground to a halt.

Mozambique’s transport operators announced on Thursday morning that they would no longer cross into KwaZulu-Natal because of growing insecurity on the road.

Read more in Daily Maverick:Another life lost as cross-border crime in northern KZN spirals out of control

They said bus and taxi operators would stop at the Ponta do Ouro border, and passengers would have to use other means of transport to continue their journey, often to Durban.

Also on Thursday, Mozambique’s National Defence and Security Council – which advises the Mozambican government on security and other matters of importance – called for “immediate solutions to the competent authorities” to halt attacks on Mozambican cars in South Africa.

These actions follow a series of events in the past few weeks in which communities in the Umkhanyakude District towns like Manguzi, Jozini, Hluhluwe and Mbazwana have protested and torched vehicles with Mozambican number plates or those driven by Mozambicans. The protests, the angry residents say, are in retaliation for the persistent hijacking and abduction of citizens, who are dropped off at the border and their vehicles spirited across the border into Mozambique.

Some residents said even if they did go to Mozambique to find their vehicles, Mozambican officials would stop them bringing the vehicles back because, according to Mozambican legislation, the buyer is innocent even if they have bought stolen goods.

The vehicles that have been torched include a luxury bus and a truck. Some drivers and passengers were robbed of money and goods at gunpoint.

On Monday this week, Mozambicans retaliated by torching a South African minibus travelling from Maputo to Durban.

For years minibuses, luxury coaches and other commercial vehicles carried both Mozambicans and South Africans along this busy road. Many Mozambicans travelled from Maputo to Durban to buy goods to sell in shops and markets in Mozambique’s capital and other trade centres.

The Mozambican Federation of Road Transport Operators (Fematro) said that it had become too dangerous to drive in KZN. “We have suspended our activities,” Fematro said.

When Daily Maverick visited the Durban long-distance taxi rank, where the Durban-Maputo minibuses pick up and drop off passengers,  despondency was clear on the faces of taxi drivers, owners and passengers. 

Read more in Daily Maverick:Cross-border crime – SIU probe into stalled R85.7-million Mozambique border wall nears completion

We were told that the driver of the minibus that was torched on Monday on the Mozambican side had been brought back but was still “recovering from the shock” at home.

A 47-year-old taxi owner, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution, said the situation was tense and drivers feared losing their livelihood owing to the torching and attacks on either side of the border.

“We have been hearing promises from the government to end the cross-border crime. Now it is affecting us … Governments from both countries should come together and stop these things [cross-border crime and torching of vehicles] once and for all,” he said.

At the Durban taxi rank, we also met taxi driver Alberto Sengo (35), who said he worried about his safety and his livelihood.

He said he supported his Maputo-based family with the money he made from driving taxis across the border.

“Although taxis are still officially operating from Durban and Maputo, there are fewer passengers. On a busy day we had up to five taxis and more leaving. But now we are struggling to fill up one taxi,” he said.

He added that although he had not personally been a victim of robbing and torching, he knew a number of people who had.

“Before they torch the vehicle, they first rob the driver and the passengers of money, and of goods they are carrying. It is very sad,” he said.

Passengers wait with their goods at a long-distance taxi rank in KwaZulu-Natal heading for Maputo, 9 March 2023. (Photo: Supplied)

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Mozambican informal traders who buy goods in Durban and pay for it to be transported back to Mozambique have also become victims of the tensions and outbreak of violence.

Hope Malwane (34) said she sold clothes and other items online. When customers paid for the goods, she bought them from wholesalers in Durban and transported them to Mozambique.

“In the first incident of robbing and torching, I lost goods worth about R14,000 as the thugs did not only burn the vehicle, but also took away a trailer carrying our goods. In the second instance, I lost goods worth about R11,000. It is very sad, because now I have to pay for these goods out of my own pocket as customers don’t understand the problems we have to overcome to bring the goods to them,” she said.

Another trader, Thuli Silinda (28) said she also lost goods twice, collectively worth about R13,000.

“We want the governments from South Africa and Mozambique to sort this out as soon as possible. Otherwise, many people will starve. I support my family, including my two children who are at boarding school, with the money I make doing this work,” she said.

Athlenda Mathe, spokesperson for the SAPS, said South African and Mozambican cabinet ministers had held a bilateral meeting in Cape Town on 8 February 2023 “to streamline the framework of co-operation and curb transnational organised crime and the latest incidents of the burning of motor vehicles”.

The meeting was attended by SA top brass including Police Minister Bheki Cele and Police Commissioner General Fannie Masemola. The Mozambican delegation was led by interior minister Arsénia Massingue and included top generals and army chiefs.

She said they agreed on the following steps: engaging with the communities in KZN and Mozambique to improve community policing; addressing theft of motor vehicles through bilateral joint investigations and/or operations; repatriating stolen vehicles from Mozambique; identifying stolen vehicles in Mozambique; enhancing information sharing; arresting wanted criminals; and continuous bilateral engagements at all levels to monitor the situation.

Mathe said that as a result of the meeting, “on 6 and 7 March 2023, members of the Detective Services travelled to Maputo and successfully repatriated four stolen vehicles from Mozambique and identified more than 16 vehicles”.

“There was indeed an incident whereby a South African Quantum was burned at Bela Vista, a district of Maputo, and the matter is being attended to by our Mozambican counterparts

“On 31 January 2023, the National Commissioner of SAPS, General Fannie Masemola, deployed additional police officers and resources to the Umkhanyakude District in the northern parts of KwaZulu-Natal,” she said, adding that these deployments would bolster police efforts to clamp down on vehicle theft syndicates that are terrorising communities in the district.

Lirandzu Themba, spokesperson for Cele, said the minister was worried about the tensions between the South Africans and Mozambicans.

“Yes, the minister is aware of the crime challenges at the border and has been kept abreast. There was a meeting with Mozambican counterparts hosted in Cape Town, which is a step towards … strengthening working relationships to tackle cross-border crime. This of course was top of the agenda as well as policing interventions to be a step ahead of criminals on both sides of the border.

“These talks will continue in due course, where a way forward will be mapped out and communicated accordingly,” Themba said. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Vanessa Das Neves Coelho says:

    I believe all traffic entering Mozambique from Ponta do Ouro border have to cross the bridge at Salamanga. In the past there used to be a police presence there to try to stop stolen vehicles passing. Couldn’t this control be re-instated?

  • Penny Philip says:

    Cele does absolutely nothing except grandstand at crime scenes which have media attention. He will not do anything about this situation because it offers no media spotlight for him personally.

  • Garth Kruger says:

    “The meeting was attended by SA top brass including Police Minister Bheki Cele and Police Commissioner General Fannie Masemola.”

    Expect no results then.

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