News24

Moz crime wave raises concern

2010-05-14 10:37

Maputo - A crime wave against foreign tourists in Mozambique has raised concerns about security at its normally idyllic Indian Ocean resorts, a key cash spinner in one of the world's poorest countries.

South African Leon Scott, 51, said his family was robbed last month while on holiday in Mozambique's southern province of Inhambane, popular for its white sand beaches and tropical waters.

A week after his family was robbed, another South African group of 16 people was attacked at a resort near the town of Chissibuca, just over 130km away. One woman was also raped.

"You need to know it is not safe. You are exposed. There has to be a security system or a plan," said Carine van der Westhuizen, a victim of the first attack.

Local authorities were shocked by the incidents, which made headlines across South Africa.

"These are the first two robberies in the history of the resorts. That's why there is such a reaction," said Erwin Jakes, head of the Inhambane Hotels and Tourism Association.

Mozambican authorities moved swiftly to reinforce the country's image as a holiday destination.

Last year, 311 000 foreigners visited the country, many of them South Africans. They spent about $196m, about 2% of gross domestic product, according to the central bank.

But the department of tourism suspects the actual economic impact is much higher, because many transactions do not go through official channels.

Inhambane governor Agostinho Trinta met with 300 tour operators one week after the first attack and set up a commission to improve safety at resorts.

Security at resorts

"Tourism operators were advised to invest in the internal security of their resorts, and the police will support them in the education and training of guards," the province's tourism spokesperson Mamerto Fernando said.

The two latest robberies appear to have been carried out by the same group and followed the same pattern. Robbers tied up their victims, stole their cash and other valuables, and made off in one of their vehicles, which they later abandoned.

Police spokesperson Pedro Cossa said two men were arrested shortly after the attacks and were "prime suspects in the crime, judging from the characteristics given by the victims to our investigators."

In December last year, police also quickly tracked down a gang held responsible for attacking foreigners in Vilanculos, also in Inhambane province.

Some tour operators said security at resorts should be increased - only two guards patrolled the 10-hectare resort where the first attack occurred.

"In some places, a kid with a bow and arrow is the guard," said David Kimber, a tour operator in Mozambique.

But many tourists have continued with their travel plans despite the incidents, including Leon Scott, whose family was robbed.

"To be quite frank and honest, we will come again," he said.

"It's an incredibly bad experience to go through, but I don't think that should dictate what you want out of life."