Trouble brewing in paradise
Motorsport enthusiasts, in particular, will remember “the good old days” in Mozambique in the sixties and early seventies.
The Total Rally and circuit racing in Lourenco Marques were among the highlights of the South African motorsport calendar. Exciting rallying and racing, accompanied by large quantities of beer, wine and seafood, made for some unforgettable experiences.
In more recent times Leisure Wheels staff members have travelled to Mozambique on numerous occasions and, for the most part, the experience has been pleasant. Not so pleasant was the time when we were hijacked and robbed of a BMW X5, cash, luggage and some very expensive camera equipment. BMW were very understanding.
On more than one occasion we have been forced to pay a bribe – not for breaking the law, but because we happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. That sounds very South African, but many of our fellow citizens have suffered a similar fate and vowed never to return to Mozambique.
Despite our unpleasant experiences, we have always kept an open mind and, in response to a query, recently advised a reader to take a short holiday in Mozambique, even though there were chances that something could go wrong. We trust the reader enjoyed his holiday. But now it appears there is trouble in paradise and one should think twice about visiting our neighbours.
Recent media reports of rising tensions between ruling party Frelimo and opposition group Renamo have once again raised the question of tourist safety in Mozambique. Reports say Renamo has threatened to sabotage the Beira-Sena railway and to attack traffic on the main EN1 road.
A number of people are reported to have been killed in attacks on a bus and trucks, and worldwide mining group Rio Tinto suspended coal shipments because of threats on the Sena railway line. At the time of writing, a Brazilian company that also mines coal in Mozambique had not stopped shipments but was “observing” the situation.
Attacks on buses and trucks are worrying, but for those of us who love the bush and wildlife, the closure of the Gorongosa National Park is particularly disturbing. The park is apparently a Renamo stronghold, and all tourists have been evacuated from Gorongosa which has been on the road to recovery since the Frelimo-Renamo civil war, which ended in 1992, virtually wiped out the animal population.
While Gorongosa will suffer heavily, there is little doubt the current situation is going to have a major impact on the Mozambique tourism industry generally.
There must also be some very nervous South African investors who, over the last 20 years, have poured bucket loads of money into coastal holiday resorts.
We at Leisure Wheels have little grasp of politics, but our uneducated guess is that the recent escalation in tensions is a result of a Renamo demand that all decisions by the National Elections Commission should be made by consensus. Renamo claims Frelimo rigs elections. So what is new among political organisations in Africa? The latest news is that there has been a spike in crime in Inhambane following a major prison break.
Travellers in the region are advised to exercise sensible precautions to mitigate the risk posed by crime.
According to state media reports, a group of 63 prisoners overwhelmed guards and seized a number of firearms before making their way to the neighbouring district of Nahambane, where they opened fire on a vehicle, killing the driver.
The security forces subsequently apprehended 23 of the escapees and killed the purported mastermind of the jailbreak, a former member of the security forces. Reports suggest that a number of government officials may have been implicated in the breakout, highlighting the prevailing culture of corruption among low-level officials and security force personnel.
Mike Slater, the Leisure Wheels special contributor on Mozambique, tells us the situation is akin to playing Russian roulette – nothing is going to happen or all hell could break loose.
According to Mike, tourists now have the option of protection by travelling in a convoy along the NE1, or they can travel alone.
The decision on whether or not to visit Mozambique in the current situation is, of course, a personal one. But before readers decide, we would urge them to contact Mike at [email protected], or visit his website at www.mozguide.com.