South Africans living in the vicinity of Palma in Mozambique have pulled a shocker by revealing that they will not be scared off by the ISIS attacks in the foreign town.
Militants, believed to be linked to Isis, began attacking Palma, in the province of Cabo Delgado, last Wednesday. The area is a gas manufacturing hub.
During the attack, more than 200 workers, including foreign employees, had to evacuate the Amarula Lodge Hotel where they had taken refuge.
Adrian Nel, 40, of Pietermaritzburg, was shot while trying to flee in a car with his brother Wesley and stepfather Greg Knox. They were stuck at the hotel.
According to reports by Reuters, the shooting began hours after Total, a French Energy Group, said on Wednesday that it would resume work at its $20 billion ( about R300 billion) project after halting operations in January due to security concerns.
Total said on Saturday that it had to postpone the restart of work at its site near Palma, a logistics hub adjacent to gas projects worth $60bn. No project staff was among the victims of the fighting.
Meanwhile, Mozambique’s military says a “significant” number of fighters were killed in the battle for the northern town and gas hub of Palma, which was seized by ISIL-affiliated assailants last month.
Commander Chongo Vidigal, leader of military operations to regain control of Palma, told state television TVM the area was “safe,” although he fell short of declaring the army had regained control.
“The airfield area was the only one we needed to clear and we did that this morning. It’s completely safe,” Vidigal told journalists on Sunday.
“I think that it is a significant number of terrorists who were shot down,” he said, adding authorities would clarify the exact number later.
Footage broadcast by TVM showed soldiers hastily pulling black plastic sheets over a body on the street. Crews on site filmed the blackened remains of several buildings, including banks, the town’s hospital, and the state prosecutor’s office.
Heavily armed soldiers stood on the street as a few remaining residents slowly picked through debris.
Security forces have until now been bolstered by a South African private military company, Dyck Advisory Group (DAG), but its contract with the government ends this week.
“God help the people,” DAG founder Lionel Dyck told AFP news agency via WhatsApp on Monday, adding it was “unlikely” soldiers had fully retaken Palma.
A South African, who declined to be named, said the Mozambican government needed to intervene.
"Mozambique is a beautiful country. These are just difficult times. Politicians should do what is necessary to bring peace and stability to the region by doing everything in their power to remove Isis," said the businessman, formerly of Gauteng.
He moved to Mozambique 10 years ago and lives about 300km from the Palma. The businessman said, as a citizen, he would not live in fear.
Another businessman, who also declined to be named, said: "We will not allow these attacks to scare us. We will not be moved from our homes or our businesses. This is our livelihood. We will stay and pray to God for protection for our homes and our families. We contribute to the economy. We provide jobs to people. Why should we live in fear?"
The businessman, who was born in Mozambique, said the government needed to have more armed forces to deal with the militant groups.
According to reports, the Mozambique government said that its security forces were working to restore order in Palma.
Clayson Monyela, the spokesperson for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, said South Africa, through its mission in Mozambique's capital Maputo, was working with local authorities to assist South Africans there.
"The SA High Commission in Maputo had managed to account for a total of 43 South Africans affected by the attack. The citizens were in the area known as Afungi. These include the two men who fled into the bush during the attacks on the Amarula Hotel convoy on March 26 and a young South African who hid away and was found by search and rescue helicopters."
Monyela said some South Africans are already back home, while others were moved to safe areas within Mozambique.
He said that the high commission was continuing to perform a track-and-trace process to find other South Africans who may have been affected.
Professor Theo Neethling, from the Department of Political Studies and Governance at the University of the Free State, said the Cabo Delgado province was now home to Africa’s three largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects.
He said these projects have attracted many of the world’s major multinational energy companies, accompanied by massive LNG investments.
"The escalation of violence and armed conflict since early 2020 has raised some pressing questions over the future of LNG investments, and even put the future of the LNG industry at high risk. Obviously, the foreign companies with their substantial investments feel threatened, especially at the current stage where final investment decisions have to be taken."
Neethling said, in recent months, the situation in Cabo Delgado went from bad to worse.
"In November 2020, dozens of people were reportedly beheaded by Islamic militants in northern Mozambique. Now, the beheadings and bloodshed have spread to the town of Palma, taking the bloodshed to another level. This is not good news for the LNG industry in Mozambique, as Palma is supposed to become the manufacturing hub where hundreds of skilled workers will be located."
He said there was little doubt that Islamist insurgents have managed to increase the scale of their activities in Cabo Delgado.
Neethling said the lack of governance and proper security response by both the Mozambican government and Southern African leaders made this a case of high political risk, which could potentially jeopardise the successful unlocking of the country’s resource wealth.
"Until now, the main LNG installations and sites have not been targeted or directly affected, but the security risks to these vast investments – and Mozambique’s development potential – are certainly on the increase and poses a threat to the LNG industry."
Kobus Marais, the DA Shadow Minister of Defence, called for a troop surge, comprised of all Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, to counter the scourge of increased terrorist activity.
He said the problems in Mozambique have the potential to destabilise the region.
"A safe and stable political environment is needed to ensure economic development and job creation reach its potential. SADC needs to intervene now to save Mozambique and ensure stability for the whole region."
Thousands of Mozambican troops had already been deployed to Cabo Delgado before the attack on Palma. But the army’s ability to fight the rebels has long been questioned, with analysts pointing to poor training and lack of equipment.