Shadow defence minister highlights importance of South Africa’s role in Cabo Delgado

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South Africa has an economic and regional interest in securing Cabo Delgado from the insurgency led by Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah (ASWJ), according to Kobus Marais, Democratic Alliance Shadow Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, who will be speaking at defenceWeb’s Countering the Insurgency in Mozambique virtual event on 16 November.

The insurgency began in 2017 when young men in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province felt the years of poor economic conditions and political exclusion warranted a ‘revolution’. ASWJ proliferated since its inception and is now a member of the Islamic State (IS), receiving an unknown amount of training and resources from the global terrorist group.

ASWJ controlled large parts of Cabo Delgado for most of 2020 in an insurgency that has left several thousand dead and over 800 000 people displaced and which continues to disrupt major gas and oil projects.

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The Mozambican government’s response to the insurgency has been lacklustre, with the deployment of badly trained and poorly disciplined Mozambique Armed Defence Forces (FADM) soldiers not making much of a difference. As a result, more than 2 000 foreign troops have deployed since July from Rwanda and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The SADC’s Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) is currently staffed by soldiers and military personnel from Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa and Tanzania. The South African National Defence Force’s (SANDF’s) Special Forces are currently deployed with the mandate to preform reconnaissance missions.

Marais believes the SANDF does not have the resources to take an offensive role in the conflict and that its limited resources are heavily needed elsewhere, such as on South Africa’s borders. “Even with the equipment that they [South African Special Forces] have got, they are still outstanding, they are the expert units in the defence force,” said Marais.

The SANDF deployed with largely ground forces equipment, supported by several helicopters, and an offshore patrol vessel at sea. There was talk of sending a submarine to Mozambique, but “we know the conditions of our submarines, the only one that we have got is not even a proper submarine due to batteries and other problems,” said Marais.

The SANDF deployment to Mozambique under Operation Vikela was initially authorised from 15 July to 15 October at a cost of R984 million for up to 1 495 personnel. It is not clear where this funding will come from – it is unlikely the SADC has the budget. According to Marais, “we don’t know yet – the one thing that I have insisted is that it should not be the South African taxpayer who carries the burden. I was assured by the previous defence minister that it would not.”

It is also not clear who will be funding other SADC member contributions to SAMIM. Rwanda is not a SADC member and it is thought that the Rwandan forces in Mozambique are being funded by the French. Total has a massive liquified natural gas project in Cabo Delgado, which led to a $20 billion investment in 2019.

South Africa has expressed concern over the situation in Cabo Delgado as the violence threatens the stability of the entire region, raises the possibility of displaced persons flooding across the border, brings the possibility of Islamist terrorism closer to home, and inhibits economic development.

Marais maintains South Africa’s economic interest in Cabo Delgado and the ability for economic interest to drive political will cannot be understated. “There is this plan that there will be a pipeline from Cabo Delgado to Gauteng some time in the future for the transport of natural resources to our economic hub,” he said. Construction companies from South Africa are already working in Cabo Delgado, according to Marais.

Some South Africans in Mozambique have already been killed by insurgents, notably during the attack on Palma in March this year, which saw others having to be evacuated.

defenceWeb will on 16 November examine regional and international efforts to counter the violence in Mozambique, through a new virtual conference, with the theme ‘Developing a multi-theatre approach to restoring peace in Cabo Delgado’.

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