A jihadist insurgency crisis is just a border crossing away from KwaZulu-Natal, leading analysts to believe local citizens are ripe for conscription.
Attacks have intensified as insurgents captured towns in Mozambique, destroyed government infrastructure and declared their goal to establish a caliphate – a political-religious state under Islamic leadership.
The Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado has been the epicentre of attacks by a group identified as Al-Shabaab.
Islamic State Central Africa, previously linked to attacks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), has claimed responsibility for 29 attacks.
Videos and photos were posted with detailed commentary regarding some attacks.
A death toll of 1100 was tallied last month with about 200 000 people forced to flee their homes.
Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi has been asking for help since 2017, when flare-ups of terrorist activity began, but has been largely ignored until last Tuesday when the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) Organ for Politics, Defence and Security hosted a one-day Extraordinary Organ Troika Summit in Harare.
Hosted by Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa and attended by the presidents of Botswana and Zambia, the event suggests the SADC was paying attention to a security threat that could spread beyond Mozambique’s borders.
It was reported that the most recent act of terror was an early morning assault on Thursday in the Macomia district a week after the SADC’s troika.
Ninety gunmen invaded a town in Cabo Delgado near Quissanga and Mocímboa da Praia. The group was believed to have its headquarters in Mocimboa da Praia, which was fired on by two helicopters after Mozambique retaliated.
A South African security group, Dyck Advisory Group (DAG), was alleged to have assisted in the retaliation after being roped in by the Mozambican government.
The jihadist group has been linked to Islamic State (IS) and has hoisted its flag in conquered towns and villages.
Mozambique’s government vowed to stamp out the insurgency and has called on Russian mercenaries, as well as the governments of Angola, France, Russia and the US to assist.
It was speculated that along with DAG, Tanzania had reportedly deployed troops to the country’s border to bolster security.
The SADC has been criticised for ignoring the situation after it was acknowledged by the AU in February when the its Peace and Security Commissioner, Smail Chergui, urged the AU to help Mozambique with equipment, training, and broad solutions.
While Chergui said there would be a permanent exchange of information between the AU and Mozambican authorities, the matter was unlikely to reach the official agenda of the AU Peace and Security Council in the near future, since according to AU protocol, the SADC should be the first to act.
In a statement on Thursday, the SADC executive secretary, Stergomena Lawrence Tax, from Tanzania, presented an overview of the political and security situation in SADC regions during a virtual meeting.
“The region has remained calm and peaceful, notwithstanding pocketed security challenges from acts of terrorism by insurgents, mainly in the Eastern parts of the DRC, and in Cabo Delgado in Mozambique.”
She assured the meeting that the SADC “remained seized with all peace and security matters in the region, and underscored the need for the SADC region to remain vigilant against emerging local, regional and continental peace and security threats, as reaffirmed by the Extraordinary Organ Troika Summit plus the Republic of Mozambique, held in Harare on May 19.”
Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, South African Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, attended the virtual meeting and urged SADC member states to stand in solidarity with DRC but did not reference Mozambique.
However last Friday, Department of International Relations and Co-operation Minister Naledi Pandor said there were ongoing talks between the two governments about the type of aid that could be provided.
Pandor did not outline what assistance or if troops would be sent, though she said she understood Mozambique used “private security providers”.
According to sources, the South African military was undertaking a planning effort to conceptualise how the military could assist Mozambican security forces.
Jasmine Opperman, an analyst at the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, said Mozambique was in dire need of help as its military and police were allegedly failing.
“What is interesting is our government’s relative silence on this matter, the luxury of not picking a side will not provide a bulletproof vest against terror attacks and South Africa confronting IS in the region is becoming a harsh reality.
“The question is not should we avoid confrontation but do we have the required intelligence and security capabilities to deal with the consequences on home soil?”
Opperman said while the risk of terrorist attacks in the country was low for now, there was a high likelihood that IS propaganda could cross the border or already be here.
“The risk of IS using home soil for recruitments, infiltration and supply streams cannot be ignored. Should South Africa decide to provide support to Mozambique, a line will be crossed and will be viewed as an IS enemy.
“With that, we cannot ignore increased risks such as accelerated propaganda campaigns and isolated attacks.”
Opperman said the country already displayed a history of IS sympathy which was evident in those who left or returned from the now defeated caliphate in the Middle East.