A call has come for South Africa as the senior member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to take the lead in efforts to end the growing Islamic State (IS) threat in Mozambique.
“Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula should urgently engage her counterparts in SADC on this,” Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Kobus Marais said.
His call comes in the wake of an ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) newsletter, Al-Naba, apparently warning South Africa not to become involved in the conflict in the northern part of Mozambique where work is underway on exploitation of massive offshore gas fields. Ansar al-Sunna, identified as a component of IS, is at the helm of the insurgency, which is believed to originate in Malawi and Tanzania.
“South Africa cannot ignore this threat or take the ISIS warning lightly. As a member of both SADC and the African Union (AU) we have an obligation to safeguard the stability of our country and our neighbours,” the shadow defence and military veterans minister said.
The newsletter, published in Arabic, reports European countries and the US want to convince South Africa to lead the war in Mozambique concentrated in the Cabo Delgado province. Fighting is reportedly taking place under the banner of Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jamaah, an organisation linked to ISIS, also known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also Islamic State (IS) and by its Arabic-language acronym Daesh.
Violence in the province started almost three years ago with an escalation in attacks in recent months.
“To ensure the threat ISIS poses to South Africa, Mozambique and SADC is dealt with decisively, it is time for all 16 SADC nations come together, strategise and collectively find solutions,” Marais said, adding he would like to see Mapisa-Nqakula “reprioritise SA National Defence Force (SANDF) troops currently deployed on South Africa’s streets”.
“They would be better employed in service of the SANDF’s constitutional mandate working toward regional stability and safeguarding our borders, among others,” he said.
Answering a Parliamentary question last month, Mapisa-Nqakula, warned the Islamist insurgency in northern Mozambique could spread to neighbouring SADC states. This would include South Africa, Malawi, Zimbabwe and even eSwatini.
She confirmed Defence Intelligence (DI) noted an increase in “insurgency activities”.
“As Islamic insurgency activities may affect some SADC states, the regional political and military approach has been recommended and to this effect plans are in place to discuss and concretise the approach,” she told DA MP Mimmy Gondwe.
Two months ago the regional bloc urged member states to support the east African country in efforts to overcome “terrorists and armed groups” in Cabo Delgado.
Attacks by Ansar al-Sunna claimed more than a thousand lives in Cabo Delgado, site of a major offshore gas find, to date. There are reports of private military contractors (PMCs) involved in fighting the insurgents.