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Greg Stringer
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'A frightening experience'

13 April 2010, 13:30  - Greg Stringer
With reference to the SA tourists attacked in Moz, I would like to share my frightening experience in Maputo this past weekend on the 10th April 2010.

My girlfriend and I were in Maputo to start setting up a procument business between SA and Moz; we had been working on this deal for several months, discussing trade options with many Moz authorities - including the Moz Embassy - and were now ready to “seal the deal” so to speak.

We booked through an agency, based in Johannesburg, advertising accommodation and the sight-seeing/entertainment opportunities in the immediate areas surrounding our hotel in Maputo.

Upon arrival at the border-post, we were accosted by Moz locals trying to “help” us with our passport/immigration documentation. These bandits are extremely persistent and really do not do any good other than irritate every other tourist by pushing in front of people waiting to be processed - and the looks were directed at us!

Mozambique is an extremely beautiful country, nearly untouched by man. All that is destroyed the minute you drive into Maputo, it is really sad to see poverty on such a large scale. Our first introduction to Maputo was being stopped by the local Militia or Police Force - we were not sure as they do not carry identification other than an AK47 which they readily use for intimidation. I had turned into a road like any other road, no specific traffic signals stating illegal turns, and was immediately stopped by these thugs.

The two “officers” then proceeded to spin a yarn about an illegal turn I had made and was ordered to pay a fine. When I questioned the legitimacy of the apparent infringement, I had an AK47 brought into my view and told to pay 2000Mt (approximately R500) or they would impound the vehicle. The Travel Agency had issued a stack of documents for officials to complete should a situation present itself, but at no point were we warned that this was a way of life in Maputo! The officer refused to complete the forms and continued to aggressively intimidate us into parting with all our money!

We, eventually, reached our hotel and booked in. Unfortunately we had to get back onto Maputo's streets to continue with our business venture. Lo and behold, we were pulled over again! Admittedly, I had made a mistake by going through a red-light (pity it was only visible once I had pulled off). Twenty, heavily-armed officers! One was at least a bit more helpful in explaining where we were exactly, but this did not stop him from demanding 3000Mt from us! Once again, we were left in the middle of an unknown town, robbed of all our money by the very people we hoped would help us.

After our business was concluded, we decided to try a restaurant recommended by the travel agency - on our return to the hotel, we were stopped again! This time, it was completely obvious that the “officer of the law” was looking for GP number plates. Several GP vehicles had been pulled off. The officer asked for the usual driver's and car licence paperwork and continued to ask for ridiculous things until we could no longer present documentation - it is then that his COMMANDING OFFICER instructed him to extract as much money as possible for a phantom infringement. By this stage we had no money left other than a pocket full of mixed coins. We were somehow released after 30mins of arguing an extortion and threatening behaviour from these so-called officials.

We later found that the restaurant, Costa Do Sol - apparently the jewel of Maputo, ran our credit-card payment twice! Is there no place in Mozambique that is not out to screw the tourist who is probably the country's only saving grace by the looks of Maputo.

Corruption often comes from the “big fish” at the top - the underlings notice this behaviour, which sends a clear message stating that it is OK to take money from innocent people.

The only way “His Excellency” is going to remove corruption is to cut out its heart - and I sincerely doubt he'll be surprised that the heart is very close to home!

We have since “binned” the business venture and will never visit Mozambique again.

My condolences go out to those poor people who experienced corruption and crime on a far greater scale than my girlfriend and I did - I can only imagine what they went through.

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