The northernmost province of South Africa’s eastern neighbour Mozambique finds itself in an untenable situation with Islamist violence ongoing while preparatory work for exploiting massive offshore gas finds is underway.
South Africa has been dragged into the fray with Islamic State (IS) via an Arabic newsletter apparently warning the country not to become militarily involved. Extremists in northern Mozambique, going under the name Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama, have proclaimed allegiance to IS.
Whether the threat is real or propaganda has not been admitted by the South African government. What it has done is attract the attention of South Africa’s ministers of State Security (Ayanda Dlodlo) and Defence (Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula). Dlodlo is reported as saying the IS threat is taken “seriously” and Mapisa-Nqakula, via an answer to a Parliamentary question, bounced the issue to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the country concerned – Mozambique.
She told Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow state security minister Mimmy Gondwe: “The co-ordinated response of SADC to the insurgency in Mozambique is a matter involving the member state and the regional body. Details of that response can best be articulated by the Chair or the Secretariat of SADC.
“The nature of the co-ordinated SADC regional political and military approach in response to the insurgency is informed by the decisions of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Affairs.”
Support for intervention – if there is to be any – led by the regional bloc comes from Kobus Marais, DA shadow defence and military veterans minister.
“South Africa should preferably not interfere in the domestic affairs of a neighboring country if our own interests are not at risk. My view is it should be a SADC intervention to stabilise Cabo Delgado.”
He points out South Africa, via an SADC approved ongoing mission, is involved in the Mozambique Channel for the anti-piracy tasking Operation Copper. Pemba has been and is used as a port of call by South African maritime forces while on patrol in the busy waterway and SA Air Force (SAAF) assets in the form of 28 Squadron C-130BZ transport aircraft also use airport facilities in the northern Mozambique harbour city.
“This,” Marais maintains, “sets a precedent for intervention by a SADC force, similar to DR Congo where South Africa is one of three countries contributing to the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB).
“Conventional warfare involvement by the SANDF must be the last option and it is important South Africa obtains the best possible and most reliable information to make the best possible decisions in the best interests of South Africans.
“Should this be under consideration it is our duty to ensure our soldiers are well trained, properly resourced, optimally protected and have the best and most credible intelligence. State Security, Military Intelligence and reconnaissance must all be at the cutting edge. We should not deploy our soldiers if these requirements are not secured.
“ISIS threats in Cabo Delgado, the threat aimed at South Africa by them and exposing of possible ISIS related cells in South Africa must be taken seriously. We must utilise our security forces strategically to safeguard and defend our country’s territorial integrity and protect our people,” he said.