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Kingsley Holgate attacked in northern Mozambique

8 July 2016

Here is Kingsley Holgate’s account of how he and his party got ambushed at midnight by AK47 wielding youths in northern Mozambique.

Potholes and Bullets
We make it to the end point of the Rio Save military convoy without serious hassles. Then duck north-east onto a dirt track that crosses the Busi River via a clapped-out ferry and across a beautiful floodplain over the Pungwe to arrive in Beira in the dark – only to learn there are still more challenges ahead.

Now I don’t want to make too big a thing about this and put people off coming to Moz, its a great country and there are no troubles in the south, but the truth is that for this northern area there will have to be peace talks with Renamo otherwise it’s going to escalate into a real bun fight! Renamo are also attacking cars and trucks on the road to Tete and the Malawian Minister of Transport is urging truck drivers to take the longer route through Zim, stating that the Tete convoy is too risky. This Renamo issue is affecting an already bruised economy says our host in Beira who together with others urges us not to take the Dondo gravel road through to the Zambezi as was our plan as it seems bandits have also attacked and burnt out vehicles on that road.

A call to friends in Gorongosa National Park seals our fate: ‘Taking the Dondo road is like playing roulette. Don’t do it.’ comes the reply. So after a break in Beira,we ‘pothole’ it all the way to the start of another bloody military convoy, this time from near Gorongosa to hopefully take us through the beautiful natural forests past Renamo’s stronghold and down to Caia on the Zambezi. The game is on! We juggle for position,dodging potholes and racing past eager bus,truck and bakkie drivers all whom, it seems, want to be directly behind the lead armored vehicle. And then,about an hour into our journey, the wildfire shooting starts.

Machine gun and AK bullets spray the forest. Leaves and dust everywhere! We come across another burnt out vehicle on the roadside. Some of the troops jump down AK’s at the ready. Thick forest either side of the road – I think what sitting ducks we are. This section of the road could also win the SADAC Pothole award. In the Landy Pink Floyd plays ‘Wish you were here.’ Life on expedition is never dull. We’re first into Caia filling station for diesel. The soldiers give us a thumbs up we give them some coldrinks and water and then we’re off across the Zambezi. We break west to take the narrow track to Morrrumbala.The elephant grass higher than the Land Rover. Beautiful scenery. No Renamo here were told. All quite and peacefull from here on.

We cross the Shire River on a hand – winched ferry and then head North up the Shire valley. Malawi here we come. But the late convoy start and the hassles on the convoy mean we can’t make the border in time,so we pull off the road to not be too conspicuous,light a small fire,throw out a tent and bedrolls and sit back. It’s the most beautiful starlit sky imaginable….

They hit us around midnight. We hear whispers in the bush. I shine my torch and then they’re all over us shouting and throwing our kit around. The torch gets slapped out of my hand. AK’s in our faces. Very nasty! Fortunately one of the soldiers speaks a little English. I take him by the hand and try and reason with him. Stop. Be calm. We’re just tourists. One of the soldiers gets into our tent and throws the bedrolls out. The bunch is high on tension and question and start forcing us at gun point to pack the Disco. Two guys force themselves into the Landy. Drive to the border we’re told.

These young soldiers are threatening and want bucks. We keep calm. At the border compound they take our car keys and passports but allow us to put up a tent. In the morning we talk they say. One arrogant youngster says ‘Hey mister you not the boss. This the boss.’showing me his AK.
During the night Sheelagh and I get a message out to a well connected mate in Maputo who by morning has a strongly worded Portuguese message on our phone assuring the authorities of our credibility. It helps a bit but still we are searched from bumper to bumper. ‘We thought you were Renamo’ said Mr Big. ‘The villagers thought you had come to kill them, they saw your lights in the bush and came to report to us, so we came to kill you… I get one of them to add a message to the large Canvas and leather bound Scroll of Peace and Goodwill that we carry on every expedition. Seems that at this rather tense time with Renamo, it’s sorely needed. Will keep you posted.”

Source: 4×4 forum – July 4th ,2016
Image: Kingsley Holgate Foundation

  • S Lategan

    Exactly what happened to us earlier this year on the road south of Caia. My words to my husband was “now I know what a sitting duck must feel like!”. You have absolutely nowhere to go and nowhere to hide when the bullets start flying. We still managed to get back to Beira via the eastern gravel road without any problems. We cancelled our plans to travel north via Tete exactly because we decided it is not worthwhile taking the risk of an attack while bush camping. What a pity this is and now Malawi is also suffering. I think it is time for the AU to intervene as this is affecting the region as a whole.

  • Bruno Musti

    You people are brave. The only thing is that you call the North what is known as the Centre. In the real North, luckily enough, there is no problem. And we are talking of about another 1,000 k long piece of land. Flying from Jo’burg to Nampula and going East and North is very safe and pleasant. Good luck for the rest of your journey.

  • Have to say the heading and intro to this article are somewhat irresponsible and misleading. Firstly, Kingsley and crew were not attacked, but treated quite appropriately, under the circumstances. Secondly, Vila Nova da Fronteira is the border post near their bush camp, and this is in central Mozambique, a long way (about 1500km) from the Tanzanian border. Thirdly, Kingsley makes it clear that they were arrested by young soldiers, not “AK47- wielding youths”.

    I am also quite surprised that an “Old African Hand” like Kingsley Holgate could be so misinformed as not to know that one of the areas where Renamo activity has badly affected the local population, is exactly where he camped. This is not a route commonly used by tourists so expecting the soldiers to understand why travelers would want to hide away from the population is really naive and unreasonable.

    Also worrying is that they bush camped without first making contact with a local chief. Taking into account that Renamo have attacked and burned villages in this area and considering how tense the situation is, it is not surprising that the villagers thought they were up to no good and informed soldiers there were strangers sneaking around in the dark. Only thieves and criminals and bandits do that in rural Africa. My own advice and practice is always to speak to any locals and ask who the chief or headman is. Greet respectfully and explain who you are, then ask permission to camp then show them where you intend to camp, or accept wherever you are shown to camp. Once this is done you become part of the village and they will look after you.

    So the soldiers that moved in at midnight carried out their duty fairly professionaly and were understandably very suspicious, scared and agitated. Kingsley and crew can count themselves lucky it was not Renamo that found them. They were forced to pack and move camp to the border post, which may not be anyone’s first choice as a campsite, but should have been considering the reality at present in Tete and Sofala and Zambezia provinces in Mozambique.

    So yes, the Moz situation is a cause for serious concern. Note however that the tourist areas south of the Save River i.e Inhassoro to Ponta do Ouro have had no problems.


    • Justin Pearce

      Mike, I totally agree with your remarks about the travellers’ lack of preparation and foresight., However, I don’t think running into Renamo would have been a big problem for them. Remand’s men have been very careful about avoiding civilian casualties in this recent conflict. Still, not something to take a chance on.

      • There have been more civilian casualties during this latest outbreak than previous episodes. My point is that if Renamo men had assumed the group were Frelimo or other hostiles, such as mercenaries, strong possibility that no-one would have survived to tell the tale.

  • Justin Pearce

    Also, none of the places mentioned are in northern Mozambique. They’re all in central Mozambique.

  • Greetings all. I annotated a map to provide some clarity and perspective regarding the location and background to this incident. Mozambique’s reputation is being dealt daily body-blows due to the on-going banditry and if Kingsley or anyone on this trip had been killed or injured, that would have just about finished it off for many long-suffering tourist operators. Note that one week after the Kingsley “attack” (I think that the term “apprehended” fits better).

    Just a week after this Pinda village health centre was looted – presumably by Renamo men. Pinda is where the Shire ferry crossing is and only about 50km (direct) from Kingsley’s camp.

  • King Clifford

    I have travelled from Pembe to Palma overland in the north of Mozambique, then sailed down through the Quirimba Islands on an assortment of dhows and other craft, never even had a single incident of theft or harassment at all – not once – ended the trip on Ibo island, beautiful country, beautiful friendly people – no problems at all in the north of Mozambique