Night of terror in Moz rebel attack
● The mother of a South African man killed in an attack in Mozambique on Friday has told how her husband and younger son hid in the bush overnight with his body, terrified they would be discovered by Islamic insurgents.
Meryl Knox, of Nkwazi in KwaZulu-Natal, was notified yesterday morning that her son Adrian Nel, 40, was among those killed.
He leaves a wife and three children, aged 10, six and two.
Yesterday South African military contractors were involved in a desperate race against time to rescue their compatriots, other foreigners, Mozambicans and aid workers from a coastal town on the brink of falling to Islamist insurgents.
Nel was among a group that made a desperate attempt to flee the Amarula Palma Hotel in Palma on Friday, hoping to make it past rebel lines. But the 17-vehicle convoy was ambushed by the insurgents and only seven vehicles made it through. Passengers in the other 10 vehicles were either killed or captured, and several South Africans are believed to be among the dead.
Knox said she had learnt of Adrian’s death yesterday morning from her husband Greg Knox’s boss. She was told that Greg and her younger son, Wesley, 37, had spent the night in the bush with Adrian’s body before being rescued and taken to Pemba.
“I can only imagine how terrible that must have been for them. I’m just grateful that we have my son’s body,” she said.
“I had been keeping in contact with Wesley during the week because Adrian’s phone was flat. They had been trying to get out of Palma and had planned to leave early on Friday. Then they were told it was too dangerous. But later they were told they could no
longer stay there and they had to get out because the insurgents were surrounding them.
“From what we have heard, they left in a convoy, which broke up when they came under attack.”
Adrian and Wesley had been assisting Greg with work in the area. His company is subcontracted to fabricate housing. Knox said she hoped her son’s death would put a spotlight on the situation in northern Mozambique. “The world stood by and did nothing. They left them to fend for themselves.”
She said she had been trying to get the South African government to help her family get out of Palma since Wednesday. “I called Dirco [the department of international relations & co-operation]. I was told there was not much South Africa can do at this stage because there are ‘too many fire
works’. Why did the government not send more troops in earlier?”
Helicopter gunships operated by the South African-owned Dyck Advisory Group (DAG) have since Wednesday been rescuing people trapped in resorts across the tourist town of Palma, but they can carry only five or six people on each trip.
“The moment the beaches fall the rebels will be coming hard and fast for those in the lodges,” said a security source.
“There are reports that there are still about 150 people inside Amarula lodge but there are not enough choppers to get them all out. There are an untold number of people trapped in other resorts across the town.
“The rebels have destroyed cellphone towers so there is no way of properly communicating with those who are trapped, unless they have satellite phones. There are a lot of casualties and many people unaccounted for. It was an absolute disaster.”
Max Dyck, CEO of DAG — contracted to assist the Maputo government in Cabo Delgado — said: “We are trying our best to bring people out from various places, including several lodges. The situation is very fluid. It’s a very tough and volatile situation.”
Dirco spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele said South African diplomats in Maputo are working with local officials to assist affected South Africans. “We don’t have full information but we have parties working on assistance. Hopefully either the family or government will be able to update us,” he said.
Security experts said the attack on Palma, which began on Wednesday as French oil firm Total was about to resume work on gas field infrastructure, could mark a turning point in the three-year Cabo Delgado conflict.
This month President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the South African Navy will ramp up security operations in the Mozambique Channel. —