SA to intensify efforts to help Mozambique fight insurgency - Pandor

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International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor.
International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor.
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  • South Africa will intensify its efforts to support Mozambique in dealing with a violent insurgency in its Cabo Delgado province.
  • The insurgency could have a variety of implications for South Africa, including displaced Mozambicans seeking refuge here.
  • Minister Naledi Pandor's briefing to Parliament is the most detail government has publicly shared on the situation.

South Africa will intensify its efforts to provide support to Mozambique to end the insecurity and limit the impact of a violent Islamist insurgency in the northern parts of the country, International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor has said.

On Wednesday evening, she briefed the Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation on the situation in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique's mineral-rich northern-most province, where an insurgency by a group called Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama (ASWJ), which started in 2017 and escalated in violence since the start of 2020.

ASWJ appears to have some connection with ISIS, which has threatened South Africa that there will be action within the republic should it get involved, but Pandor didn't address this aspect.

EXPLAINER | How serious is ISIS’ threat to South Africa?

Prefacing her briefing, Pandor said the situation was highly complex and continuously evolving, with varying schools of thought that defined different causes, drivers and players involved.

She said, while the insurgency had begun with basic weapons, in the last few months, as the attacks escalated, the weaponry used had become more sophisticated.

Pandor said the region's substantial liquid natural gas (LNG) project had the potential to catapult Mozambique into middle-income country status and place it among the top 10 LNG producers in the world.

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She said it could not be confirmed whether it was a guerrilla movement evolving to terrorism, or a terrorist group using guerrilla tactics in search of political, financial and moral support from other radicalised religious groups.

She said attacks were mainly against Mozambique's own population and its state.

There aren't any known attacks against Westerners and all Western investments in the province are protected by private security companies.

According to Pandor's information, the first half of the year has been marked by a series of attacks, increasingly violent, characterised by sabotage against entire villages, civilians, government buildings, NGOs and churches. It has left more than 10% of the province’s population internally displaced and towns and villages have been looted after being occupied.

The insurgents' occupation of towns for extended periods has become a feature, and some towns and villages remain abandoned by their original inhabitants.

READ | Mozambican insurgency threatens South African gas interests - defence minister

This has led to the internal displacement of the province's citizens. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that around 250 000 people have been internally displaced, which is roughly 10% of the population of Cabo Delgado, while more than 1 100 people have been reported killed.

The violence has affected some of the neighbouring provinces through migration and disturbed the livelihoods of mostly subsistence farmers who fear to return to their land.

"The emergence of conflict in Mozambique is a worrying reversal of the peace that has characterised SADC for many years," Pandor said.

"South Africa will intensify efforts to provide support to Mozambique to end the insecurity speedily and to limit its impact."

Expected implications for South Africa:
  • Internally displaced persons might end up seeking refuge in South Africa;
  • Mozambique has just assumed the Chair for SADC, which is a great opportunity for both countries to strengthen cooperation between SADC and AU as well as between South Africa and Mozambique;
  • South Africa is also the incoming Chair of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security, and will be involved directly in regional peace and security matters for the next three years;
  • A great opportunity exists for South Africa to import natural gas from Mozambique, thus the security of Cabo Delgado is of great interest to South Africa and her energy diversification strategy; and
  • South Africa’s security agencies need to enhance their capacity and data to allow for appropriate decisions to be considered.

Pandor said South Africa would, in dealing with the situation, consider continued direct engagement at principals’ levels, increased discussions on solutions at regional (SADC) and continental (AU) levels on the conflict, information sharing between Mozambique and regional partners, and maritime security cooperation.

Pandor also said that the international community, including the African Union (which South Africa chairs under the theme "Silencing the Guns"), the UN and Southern African Development Community, had paid more attention to the insurgency in recent months.

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Pandor's briefing was the most detailed information government has publicly provided on the situation in Cabo Delgado.

When questioned on the topic in Parliament, Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has been prone to hold her cards close to her chest.

State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo, in an interview with News24, however, has admitted that it is a concern and is receiving attention from the South African intelligence agencies.

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