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South African troops to be deployed to troubled Mozambique

SADC will soon have ‘boots on the ground’ in Cabo Delgado.
Some believe the SANDF would do better to quell internal anarchy, but SA has much to gain from a successful military intervention in Mozambique. Image: AdobeStock

It marks the start of a tricky, unpopular and possibly very costly military adventure South Africa does not want yet cannot realistically avoid, but the Status of Forces agreement between Mozambique and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) on troop deployment to combat the Muslim fundamentalist insurrection into the Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado has finally been signed.

Tensions between Mozambique and South Africa – officially denied by the South African government but clear for anyone to see – delayed the signing, but pen was finally put to paper late last week.

This means South Africa is going to be militarily involved – for better or worse.

On Sunday night (July 18), Minister of Defence Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and top departmental officials briefed the South African parliament’s joint standing committee on defence.


Despite repeated questions by opposition members, however, important details on the extent of troop deployments and the projected cost to the South African taxpayer were not provided.

The omission of such basic information raises two possibilities:

  • The first is that no estimated budgeting or estimates of troop numbers required has been done, which would expose a lack of planning the likes of which has been only too apparent in the security cluster of the South African government over the past week.
  • The second is that South African authorities are loath to announce such estimates, which would be nonsensical as South African law requires President Cyril Ramaphosa to provide such estimates to parliament in writing within the next few days.

Vague, but telling

Vague as the input by defence authorities was, two important new points were made, both of which signal a change of tone by South Africa on the Cabo Delgado military intervention.

Firstly, the current plan is to only send a rapid deployment force to Cabo Delgado with the stated and limited aim of gathering information and identifying possibly problematic issues for the possible deployment of a full SADC military force “should it still be needed,” in the cryptic words of Mapisa-Nqakula.

She said both South Africa and Botswana are monitoring very closely whether such a military deployment will indeed be necessary.

According to DA shadow minister of defence Kobus Marais, the change of tone evident in these statements indicates a definite and quite sudden lessening of urgency and keenness for the deployment on South Africa’s part.

This change in South African attitude is certainly not informed by any change in the situation in Cabo Delgado.

Rather, the tensions between Mozambique and SADC, and the deployment of Rwandan troops in the theatre of battle (details below), would have played a part in occasioning the change in attitude, as well as wariness on South Africa’s part of a protracted Vietnam-type military commitment with long supply lines in a volatile and deadly environment.

South Africa also has little appetite for a financial burden the precarious South African economy can currently ill afford.

Secondly, South Africa’s new-found hesitancy is also clearly evident in the omission of a target date to have “boots on the ground” in the province.

As recently as eight days ago, South African authorities were much more pointed about dates, but any South African gung-ho tendencies have dissipated completely.

So far, the proposed military intervention has been a stop-start affair characterised by delays and disunity.

The SADC military force was expected to have boots on the ground by last Wednesday (July 14) to try and stem the tide of the insurrection.

People displaced by the attacks on the town of Palma, in the northern Mozambique province Cabo Delgado, flee to safety with meagre possessions. Image: Alfredo Zuniga, AFP via Getty Images

The conflict has left 3 000 people dead and 700 000 displaced since it took shape in October 2017, after Africa’s richest offshore natural gas deposits were discovered off Cabo Delgado, some 1 600km north of Maputo.


This has led to French oil company Total withdrawing from its Cabo Delgado operations, American oil giant Exxon Mobil placing its investment on hold since 2019, and Italian oil company ENI running an entirely ocean-based operation.

South African investments in the region include mining, security and small business interests.

Counter-offensives unsuccessful

The Mozambican defence force’s counter-offensives against the insurgents failed to stop the advancing forces, and in March the insurgents captured Palma harbour near the Tanzanian border.

A South African citizen, Adrian Nel, was killed trying to flee the besieged town.

Tensions between South Africa and Mozambique escalated further a month later when a South African drone was shot down by Mozambican security forces and four South African spies were arrested by authorities in Maputo, leading to the suspension of Robert McBride as head of the foreign branch of the South African State Security Agency (SSA), which manages the country’s spies.

Tensions involving SA

Liesl Louw-Vaudran, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Johannesburg, says these specific events feed into three general current causes of tension between South Africa and other African states, including SADC members and specifically Mozambique.

The first is the proliferation and complete dominance of South African consumer goods on those countries’ markets, while relatively few locally manufactured goods get exported to South Africa, creating feelings that colonialism of a special type might be at play.

Read: Mozambique’s vast gas fields will fuel growth, says Grindrod

Secondly, the periodic xenophobic attacks in South Africa have sparked strong anti-South African sentiment in these countries.

Thirdly, former Mozambican finance minister Manuel Chang is still in custody in South Africa (and has been since December 2018), despite calls for his extradition to either the USA or Mozambique to stand trial. He is accused of fraud and accepting bribes.

Louw-Vaudran points out that the anti-South African sentiment in Mozambique remains strong despite much South African aid whenever natural-disaster-prone Mozambique requires such.

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has often assisted when floods strike Mozambique. The South African Navy has also, for many years, intervened to combat pirates off the entire east coast of Africa. These actions have clearly failed to capture the hearts and minds of the Mozambican people, or the government in Maputo.


Furthermore, despite the realities of the near total failure of Mozambique’s defence force to halt or reverse the insurrection, hardliners in Frelimo, the Mozambican governing party, maintain that Mozambique will handle the situation by itself.

These hardliners claim that Frelimo – and Mozambique – attained freedom without foreign help and will maintain that freedom without foreign intervention.

Nevertheless, Mozambique has agreed to the deployment of 1 000 Rwandan troops to help restore stability and to commence combat and security operations in Cabo Delgado. But Rwanda, of course, is not a SADC member.

Despite all the indications already listed, Mapisa-Nqakula refuses to admit that tensions exist between South Africa and Mozambique, preferring to call them “alleged tensions” at a media conference this week.

Additionally, there is a growing belief in South Africa that the SANDF would do better to continue quelling internal anarchy rather than dealing with Mozambican woes. There were also the delays in the signing of the Status of Forces agreement – a requirement before South African forces can be deployed.

South Africa and SADC have every reason to help avert a humanitarian disaster in Cabo Delgado and the hijacking of its economic wealth. Any refugee problem and any growth in regional Islamic fundamentalism will be sure to impact all SADC member states.

Investment impact

Furthermore, the economic boon of the natural gas fields is so massive it can benefit the whole region. But if Mozambique reaps the whirlwind, its exposure as a failed state may well foretell that the effects will not cease at the Mozambican border.

No SADC member state will remain untouched by the effects of such a fall-out, and all will want to avoid it.

All of this means South African investors and the South African government alike have much to gain from a successful SADC military intervention against the insurrection.

However, the region’s fractured politics and state failure contribute to growing pessimism that the insurrection in Cabo Delgado will be quelled anytime soon.


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I wonder if one could find some army recruits in KZN to be deployed into Mozambique to quell terrorism. Possibly lots of folks there with pent-up energies looking for gainful activity.

They would overrun Moz in a day. Generals, Zuma and Niehaus in command.

with their PEP stores camo…heeeeha!

They cannot even control riots and insurrection at home due to alleged infrastructure and resource constraints but there is money available to spend on something like this 3000 KM away.

This can only end badly…..for us.

Mozambique – beautiful country with just another useless Southern African government.

I live in a hotspot South of Durban where the community looked after our own shops and infrastructure.

I can confirm that I have not seen a single SANDF person deployed to this area. Not a single one contrary to what Cyril says. Did the defense minister confirm what I am saying?

How can you have a “leader” in charge of an army fighting a factional battle.

The selective and non deployment of the defense force might have a very sinister motive. The guy comes across as not telling the truth most of the time.


If I remember correctly, oversize meant that you could not wear a uniform. Perhaps the Dufty Squadron was there but was only allowed to wear Civvies.

Our SA troops…tellytubbies with guns. shame they are a sorry site.

Saw a picture doing the rounds with one of these round troops in KZN. small problem was that he had forgotten to put the breech block into the R4.

I remember my days in 1972, with my battalion on the border. Not a fat belly in sight. Fit, focused, the best instructors in the world.

To be fair, pwgg, I did meet with some of our new paratroopers and I was impressed. Lean, mean, tough. An encouraging sight, I must say. However, this morning I saw a version of an infantry lieutenant who was, ummm, portly.

Glad to hear that, I was one back in the day. We were a proud regiment.

I doubt that the Bats were deployed in Durban.

To do what? They are not allowed to shoot and kill?
Absurd waiste of tax money.

Can’t imagine SA has a single penny available for this mission!

The Frelimo government refused outside help for years – it’s pointless for SA to push its way in, but the jihad threat is real to all Southern African countries. Catch 22 scenario

Me thinks the reality of the matter is that SADC is a basket case of ISIS to take over, the political leaders are unable to deliver on their promises by ensuring that the economic environment is rife for employment.

Here we have a situation where young men have no purpose, ISIS clearly take advantage of that. On top of that the anc terrorist arm (Umkondlo mKesiswe) was rather useless.

The only real hope on SADC is the BDF (Botswana Defence Force). God forbid that the US democracy soldiers do not intervene, then we will have another 20 year pointless war.

The only thing our troops are going to do that side is impregnate the local women.

small arms collateral damage.

and killing them softly with AIDS…

I am thinking, rounding up a bunch of car guards and sending them to Moz would be more effective.

Why does Mozambique not import the superfluous Cuban soldiers? I bet, with some overtures, the Cuban regime would be quite willing to lend a hand. After all, the seem to love these Southern African climes – and the generous payments made by the South African taxpayer. But, should our lads indeed be deployed there, they should beware: those guys shoot back! They aren’t unarmed beachgoers. Oh, and let us not forget our disastrous foray into Lesotho! The shame, the shame!

Good. Time to squash the terrorists.

You mean they’re going to KwaMashu? Yaaaaaay!

I would prefer to see the army protecting South African citizens, especially here in Cape Town which is falling apart as a consequence of commuters being held to ransom by the taxi industry which is in an internecine war and preventing ordinary people from getting to work or being collected by their employers. Your are either forced to pay to get through barriers or risk your life to get to work.

This is just one of the real issues behind the failure of the economy.

Agree with Beachcomber, the ongoing taxi war in Cape Town is creating havoc for workers and businesses alike.

There are also reports of Uber drivers being taken from their vehicles to who knows where, with their vehicles being “confiscated” if they operate on “taxi routes”.

When the terrorists see SANDF is a walkover they will have confidence in proceeding with their antics on local soil

I think the SANDF would be there for 2-3 weeks and will then be asked to leave.
It can potentially be used as a ‘trim camp’ for the volumetrically challenged members of the armed forces.

No, they can simply start earning their salaries right here in Cape Town by being productive and help sort out the taxi violence and intimation – if they do their jobs properly, they’ll soon lose their excess fat.
Maybe they can at the same time do something about that pathetic Defence minister of theirs; she’s now so thick-skinned that she’s blaming the MEDIA for her statement that the riots weren’t a failed insurrection attempt.

(When the hell is our lame-duck president going to reshuffle his cabinet and appoint proper people!)

End of comments.





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