Mayhem in Maputo as SA visitors exit

2010-09-02 23:21

Johannesburg - Two Johannesburg residents could only sit and watch on Thursday as a Mozambican policeman sitting in the front of their vehicle led them through the chaotic riots in Maputo, firing his AK-47 from time to time.

In another incident the bakkie Bertus Gründling, who is a refrigeration technician from Nelspruit, and his two sons were driving in was hit by a rock "the size of a brick" thrown by a protester as they were driving from Matola to the Lebombo border with South Africa.

Both groups had been trapped in Mozambique since Wednesday, when violent protests against rising food prices broke out all over Maputo and Matola.

"We had to sleep on planks in a supermarket in Maputo on Tuesday night when we were trapped in the city by the riots and couldn't get to the guest house in Matola... we could hear shots being fired throughout the night," said Gründling.

However, the situation in the capital was considerably calmer on Thursday, but sporadic incidents of violence and looting were reported, according to the Mozambican authorities.

'Too dangerous to leave'

Alberto Nkutumula, a government spokesperson, said six people died during rioting on Wednesday and one person died on Thursday.

Over 142 people have been arrested since the start of the protests and 27 people, including two police officials, were injured.

Maputo's CBD was nearly deserted on Thursday, while most businesses had closed their doors for the second day in a row. Public transport also came to a standstill. Even the Maputo harbour was quiet.

Mark Hankey, 49, and his business partner Alan Metcalfe, from Johannesburg, were finally able to cross the border to South Africa on Thursday afternoon, shaken but uninjured.

According to Hankey, his first visit to Maputo was a rather strange experience.

The two men are in the protective clothing business and arrived in Maputo on Tuesday for a meeting with clients.

"There was no sign of unrest on Tuesday. When we went to the hotel (the Maputo Sun) lobby the next morning (Wednesday), there were people milling about everywhere. The hotel staff said there's big trouble with protests in the city and that it's too dangerous to leave the hotel. We had to... spend all day sitting next to the swimming pool."

The two businessmen left for South Africa on Thursday morning.

Police escort

"We were hardly a kilometre or two from the hotel when we drove into the first barricades. About 4km further the road was completely blocked by burning barricades. The police were shooting at the protesters so we followed a police vehicle, since we were a little lost by that stage."

A while later they stopped by the police vehicle and asked the policemen to help them get out of the city. One armed policeman climbed into the front of Hankey's vehicle and they were escorted by a police vehicle.

"We raced through several barricades with the policeman leaning out of the window and shooting in all directions to scare away the protesters.

"Outside the city the police pulled over and said it would be safe for us to carry on alone. We put foot down and made for the border," said Hankey.

Like 'SA in the eighties'

Gründling on Thursday told how protesters had thrown a rock at his son Freddie's bakkie just outside Matola on the highway to South Africa.

"But no-one was hurt."

Saul Molobi, spokesperson for the department of international relations and co-operation, confirmed on Thursday that no South Africans have been injured or killed in the protests.

The South African high commissioner in Maputo also re-opened its doors late on Thursday.

Meanwhile the Mozambican cabinet has said the increased bread and other prices will not be lowered.

Only 131 of the 230 passengers who would have returned to South Africa on an SAA flight on Wednesday arrived at the OR Tambo airport at 14:00 on Thursday.

Upon arrival Stuart McDonald said the drive to Maputo's airport reminded him of South Africa in the eighties: "burning tyres and bullets flying".