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Mozambique: What you need to know about the Islamist militants' attacks

29 March 2021 - 15:22 By unathi nkanjeni
The department of international relations and co-operation said it was aware of South Africans stuck in Palma and was working with local authorities. Stock photo.
The department of international relations and co-operation said it was aware of South Africans stuck in Palma and was working with local authorities. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/ZABELIN

Islamist militants attacks in a town in northern Mozambique have resulted in foreign citizens, including South Africans, being unaccounted for.

The militants seized control of the town of Palma after French oil and gas giant Total announced last week it would be resuming work in the area.

The militants took control of the territory, including a strategic port, and burnt dozens of villages across the Cabo Delgado province.

Here is a wrap of what happened:

Several people killed by militants

TimesLIVE reported the militants killed several people including at least one foreign worker and forced Total to suspend operations at a huge gas project worth $60bn (nearly R900bn). 

Several South Africans were feared to be among dozens of foreign contractors killed or captured as they tried to escape the suspected Islamic militants.

One security source told The Times only seven out of 17 vehicles that left a hotel serving Africa's biggest gas project got away when their convoy was ambushed by the militants.

Locals fleeing on sailing boats

According to Pinnacle News, many locals fled Palma in heavily overloaded sailing boats, aiming to reach Pemba.

“Many of them travelled for the first time in these conditions and without any money or food to pay for the trip. Some boats left without the express authorisation of the legitimate owners or the maritime police,” it said.

Pinnacle said communication with Palma was “practically impossible” and many reports about what had happened in the town came from the first survivors to arrive on Paquitequete beach in Pemba.

Missing South African found

Francois van Niekerk, 21, who was missing in the volatile Palma region, was found after being missing for a couple of days.

Van Niekerk, who did work related to Total's multibillion-dollar natural gas project, last made contact with his family on Wednesday. His stepmother, Cindy Cooke, told Reuters at the weekend the family was frantically trying to get information on his whereabouts.

However, on Sunday, a Facebook page dedicated to “Bring Francois home” announced he had been found alive.

“Our boy has been found, he is safe at the camp.”

One SA couple's son dead

A SA woman, Meryl Knox, told Reuters her son Adrian Nel had died in that ambush.

Her husband and another son hid with his body in the bush until the following morning, when they were able to make it to safety in Pemba.

Speaking to SABC News, Knox said she hopes the public outcry will put pressure on Mozambique to allow people into the country to help locate the missing people.

She said her younger son was expected to return to the country.

“My husband is waiting for Adrian’s body to be released and the paperwork to be done, which I believe has been organised, and hopefully come back when everything is all in order.”

International relations department doing its best 

The department of international relations and co-operation said it was aware of South Africans stuck in Palma and was working with local authorities to provide the necessary consular services.

“The government has noted with concern the recent attacks in Palma,” said the department.

“In this regard, SA through its mission in Maputo is working with the local authorities on verifications, as well as providing the necessary consular services.

“The mission in Mozambique is being re-enforced with additional staff in order to handle the work at hand of locating, identifying and responding to the respective needs of the affected. SA stands ready to work with the government of Mozambique in pursuit of lasting peace and stability.”

Gas project suspended

TimesLIVE reported Total expressed its sympathy and support to the people of Palma.

Total said its priority was to ensure the safety and security of the people who work on the project.

“There are no victims among the staff employed on the site of the project in Afungi. Total has decided to reduce to a strict minimum level the workforce on the Afungi site.

“The remobilisation of the project that was envisaged at the beginning of the week is obviously now suspended. Total trusts the government of Mozambique whose public security forces are currently working to take back the control of the area,” said the company.