PARIS (Reuters) – Total said on Saturday that it had postponed the restart of work at a liquified natural gas (LNG) project in Mozambique following an attack on a nearby town this week.
The French energy group said none of the project staff were among the victims of the fighting, linked to an Islamist insurgency in northern Mozambique.
Meanwhile, more details have emerged about how expats and villagers were left to fend for themselves for the past three days as Palma, in northern Mozambique, was overrun and besieged by a around 100 jihadist insurgents.
President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to attend an urgent meeting this afternoon about the situation, and News24 understands there is talk about the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) deploying its special forces to help contain the situation.
But for some families this has come too late. One South African woman, who got news on Saturday morning that she had lost her son in an attack on the Amarula Lodge on Friday, said she asked the Department of International Relations and Cooperation on Thursday to help.
“They said they can’t go in there because there’s too much ‘fireworks’,” she added.
The woman, who preferred not to be named due to the distress the news could cause to other family members, said her husband and two sons were working as building subcontractors near Palma.
She had been too distressed to sleep or eat since the attacks started on Wednesday, but said she was relieved to hear on Saturday morning that her husband and son, as well as the body of her late son, were evacuated to Pemba about 250km to the south.
1) Was the assault in reply to the Total press release? No – the attack showed meticulous planning, which makes a prompt reaction decidedly implausible. pic.twitter.com/j9LhX2T3Bt
— Jasmine Opperman (@Jasminechic00) March 27, 2021
They are staying with friends and are expected to return to South Africa within the next few days.
Jayde Alexander, whose father Nicholas was still unaccounted for on Saturday afternoon, said she was told by the department it could only help him once he got himself to safety.
“This [insurgency] has been going on for four years and there’s a heavy South African citizenry in the place. They had all the intel they needed to be prepared,” the distressed Alexander added about the South African government’s response.
Family members of some of the expats working there have formed a WhatsApp group in a desperate attempt to get information about where their loved ones might be.
Ramaphosa was expected to excuse himself from a crucial ANC national executive committee meeting on Saturday afternoon so that he could have an urgent meeting with Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and other heads of the security cluster over the situation.
News24 understands that a meeting with Mapisa-Nqakula was scheduled for 14:00, but Presidency spokesperson Tyrone Seale said it did not comment on security matters.
SANDF spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini has not responded to a query on any possible deployment of soldiers to Mozambique, other than acknowledging receipt of the question.
On Friday night, international relations and cooperation department spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele said he had confirmed the situation “through our mission in Mozambique” and the department was “providing consular services to the distressed South Africans while it continues to monitor the situation”.
Details about how many people died in the attack are still sketchy, but there were reports of a number of people missing after insurgents attacked the Amarula Lodge Hotel where expatriates were sheltering.
A picture was posted on Twitter on Friday of someone spelling SOS – an apparent desperate plea for help – on the lawn of the hotel with what appeared to be white stones.
It is still not clear what the motives are for the attack, which coincided with the resumption on Wednesday of operations of the new Total liquefied natural gas plant at Afungi, near Palma.
Sources said the attack was meticulously planned days in advance and it could have been prevented.