South Africa is ready to help insurgency-hit Mozambique with support from its intelligence services or military, but its neighbour would first need to request that help, South African foreign minister Naledi Pandor said on Wednesday.
Pandor told a parliamentary committee that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) had asked Mozambique to provide a roadmap on the assistance it might need, which would then be deliberated upon before a course of action was chosen.
“If it is more intelligence support, if it is the South African navy patrolling the coast, if it is assistance from our defence force, we as South Africa stand ready, but we must have that indication from the government of Mozambique,” Pandor said.
“Mozambique is a sovereign country, if it needs assistance from any of us it would ask for it…But should South Africa be jumping into Mozambique without any request from the country, without any indication as to where it needs help? I’m not sure that we can do that,” she added.
“The emergence of conflict in Mozambique is a worrying reversal of the peace that has characterised SADC for many years,” Pandor said. “Mozambique has been engaging with our various countries, and we are all looking at how we might assist them.”
In its presentation to parliament on Wednesday, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) noted that attacks began in the northern Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado in 2017 but have gathered pace this year, with insurgents seizing key towns for brief periods and increasingly hitting military or strategic targets.
DIRCO said Cabo Delgado is faced with the triple challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic; the violent insurgency; as well as a humanitarian crisis caused by the insurgency and cyclones Ida and Kenneth of 2019.
The first half of 2020 has been marked by series of attacks, increasingly violent, against entire villages, civilians, government buildings, NGOs and churches. These have left more than 10% of the province’s population internally displaced (around 250 000 people).
DIRCO said it has been difficult to understand the insurgents as it is not clear if this is a guerrilla movement evolving to terrorism, or a terrorism group using guerrilla tactics in search of political, financial and moral support from other radicalised religious groups.
Attacks are mainly against own population and the state, with no visible attacks against Westerners – all Western investments in the province are protected by private security companies.
DIRCO said the occupation of towns for extended periods of time has become a feature and some towns and villages remain abandoned. The announcement of the recent capture of the port town of Mocimboa da Praia in August “is of great concern”.
“The emergence of conflict in Mozambique is a worrying reversal of the peace that has characterised SADC for many years. South Africa will intensify efforts to provide support to Mozambique to end the insecurity speedily and to limit its impact,” DIRCO said.
It added that the situation in Mozambique has been gaining more attention. In May, Zimbabwe, as chair of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, convened an extraordinary summit to discuss the issue and Mozambique was asked to draw up a plan to address terrorist activities in Cabo Delgado. SADC member states were urged to support Mozambique in its fight against the insurgency and share intelligence. Mozambique has yet to finalise a plan of action.
Implications for South Africa
DIRCO pointed out that there are a range of implications for South Africa regarding the insurgency, including the fact that internally displaced persons might end up seeking refuge in South Africa and that South Africa’s possible importation of natural gas from Mozambique may be affected.
South Africa’s security agencies need to enhance their capacity and data in order to allow for appropriate decisions to be considered, DIRCO stated, adding that South Africa may consider diplomatic discussions, information sharing between Mozambique and regional partners and maritime security cooperation (including with other partners).