South Africa’s Defence and Military Veterans Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, said following the terrorist attacks in Cabo Delgado, the likelihood of the country to help Mozambique is going to be discussed behind closed doors.
She said the matter would be discussed in the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence (JSCI) – a parliamentary committee that only meets behind closed doors and whose members face jail time if they were to publicise the content of the committee.
An islamist group known as Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah has been behind a string of deadly and violent terrorist attacks in Mozambique’s northern province of Cabo Delgado.
It is said to be affiliated to ISIS (Daesh), and in recent months the attacks have escalated.
The minister was answering written questions posed by parliamentarians of the main opposition political party Democratic Alliance (DA), according to media reports.
In a written question, DA Member of Parliament (MP) Kobus Marais asked whether Mapisa-Nqakula intended to brief the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans and Joint Standing Committee on Defence about Islamic insurgency activities in northern Mozambique and whether she intended to request that such a briefing was in a closed meeting.
“All matters pertaining to the national security of other countries, especially within SADC member states are presented and discussed at the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence as and when required,” she responded.
Marais’ question follows a question by his colleague, Mimmy Gondwe, who asked whether Military Intelligence had found that there was potential for the increasing Islamic insurgent activities to spread to Southern African Development Community (SADC) states.
The minister’s response can be understood as caution, as South Africa is on edge after the terror network Islamic State (ISIS) warned the country to stay clear of the group’s insurgency in northern Mozambique or risk having the militants retaliating over Pretoria’s involvement in regional efforts to contain the disturbances in the neighbouring nation.
Daesh issued the warning in its latest newsletter, Al-Naba, last week, in which it told the South African government not to get involved in the conflict in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province.
It threatened to “open the fighting front” within South Africa’s borders, should the Pretoria government get involved in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province.
The security situation in Cabo Delgado has worsened in recent months as militias from the ISIS-linked Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jamaah or Al-Shabaab have increased attacks on civilians.
Mapisa-Nqakula’s answer was the first public expression of concern from the South African government that the violence in Mozambique could spread, following a threat by the terror group.
“Defence Intelligence can confirm that there is an increase of Islamic insurgency activities currently in the province of Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, and these have the potential to spread to other provinces and neighbouring Southern African Development Community states,” she answered.
Mozambican armed forces have struggled to combat the insurgency and rely on private military contractors such as the Wagner Group and the Dyck Advisory Group and Russian mercenaries.
Recent shifts in the government’s attitude to externalising the fight against Al-Sunnah must be viewed against this backdrop of military constraints.
Mozambique’s formal request for Southern African Development Corporation (SADC) support was discussed at a special summit in May, but an overarching strategy hasn’t yet been produced. SADC must urgently take action.
Gondwe said in a statement on Sunday that the DA had submitted “a slew of parliamentary questions” to Mapisa-Nqakula and State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo on the insurgency.
“The South Africa public needs the assurance that its government is taking all the necessary steps to mitigate the impact of the mounting insurgency in Mozambique and ensuring a well coordinated approach is taken by all the potentially involved role players, including our intelligence agencies and the defence force,” said Gondwe in her statement.
The DA reiterated its call on the minister of defence to urgently engage her counterparts in the SADC region regarding the insurgency in Mozambique.
Even after a threat from ISIS earlier this month, the government has been unwilling to publicly speak about the conflict, which started in October 2017, claimed more than 1, 300 lives and displaced more than 250, 000 people in Cabo Delgado.