South African President Cyril Ramaphosa visited northern Mozambique on Thursday, supporting the government’s latest effort to reassure neighbours and investors that an Islamist uprising is under control.
Thousands of people have died in the conflict in the north since 2017 and nearly one million have fled its hallmark beheadings, arson attacks and kidnappings.
South Africa has deployed 1,500 troops to shore up Mozambican forces in the north, where Islamists last year seized large parts of Cabo Delgado province, home to some of the world’s largest natural gas deposits.
Their advances forced TotalEnergies to halt work on a $20-billion LNG project in the region nearly a year ago.
Ramaphosa’s show of solidarity in the Cabo Delgado town of Mueda came on Heroes’ Day when Mozambique commemorates soldiers who died in the war of independence from Portugal.
“This year, we mark this occasion during a challenging struggle against terrorism,” Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi said.
“Our finest sons are battling … alongside the sons of SADC and Rwanda, who are giving their lives to ensure the integrity of our nation and bring peace.”
South African forces form the largest contingent of a troop deployment from the 16-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC), which along with Rwanda has helped Mozambique push back the insurgents.
Ramaphosa hailed his nation’s long ties with Mozambique but said little about the conflict.
“We must strengthen our partnership to pursue our common objectives, which are the promotion of peace and security, sustainable economic development as well as regional and continental integration,” he said.
South Africa officially says the military deployment is open-ended, but costs for the African troops are adding up to a bill that the region can hardly afford.
Over the last week, Mozambique has tried to reassure neighbours and investors that their efforts are worthwhile.
Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan visited last Friday and TotalEnergies boss Patrick Pouyanne met Nyusi in Maputo on Monday.
Rwandan forces last week also allowed journalists a rare visit, to see how life is slowly returning to some of the hardest-hit areas.
Violence in the region has led to the death of at least 3,700 people since 2017 — 1,613 of them civilians — while a further 820,000 have fled in terror.
The insurgency has been characterized by grisly decapitations, arson attacks, and kidnappings — especially of young girls.