By Dr Masimba Mavaza | Michael Chandada was so excited when he got a Job in Mozambique. His company is involved in extracting oil and gas and again runs marines in the area. Michael was posted to work from a plant in Palma..
Palma is a town on the northeast coast of Mozambique’ s Cabo Delgado Province. Less than 20 miles 35 kilometres away is the border with Tanzania to the north and north-west. There is only one road which leads to Palma and out of Palma. The other side Palma is surrounded by the sea.
On this day Mike as Michael is passionately known was at work in a compound which was only five miles ten kilometres from the house Mile was staying. In this company there are over twenty Zimbabweans employed there. They all lived in the same compound away from the work station. A message came to the effect that the ISIS Alshabab were coming to attack the town of Palma so the work station was to be shutdown for the security of the workers.
Soon after the message Mike and his manager whom he was staying with jumped into their car and sped off to their house. Mike shared this house with his manager.
Mike narrated his story “ Just fifteen minutes after we got in the house we heard gunshots. We could hear the shouts of Allah Akbar. We peeped through the window then I saw a lot of cars driving in the town. There were men armed by all sorts of arms. At that moment I started to sweat my manager was visibly shaken and he was sweating buckets.
We saw some of our work mates driving out in a bid to escape. I counted four trucks with Zimbabweans driving towards the hotel they said a hotel was a safe place to go in such times.
My manager and I made a decision not to go anyway. We locked the gate ams locked the house doors. We closed the windows and all the curtains were pulled.
The sound of guns was increasing and getting closer. There was silence in the house we could hear our hearts pounding. Yet there was great noise coming from outside. Few meters from our house was the army camp. We heard the sounds of the guns and groans of pain. There were screams we had never heard before.
There was anguish and despair the way people screamed it resembles a labour ward. All of a sudden the lights went off but the guns kept rumbling. There was nothing we could do. We could not leave the house at this stage. Outside was a war zone. We were sure that we were going to die.
We have already been warned that the first enemy of Alshabab
Was a foreigner. So our deaths were already guaranteed.
There was groaning, crying, screaming and all unpleasant noises.
After a time which felt like a year we heard the rebels now coming in the houses. We could here doors being Brocken. They never asked questions. They shot first and then shoot again. When we heard the doors being brought down we realised that the army has been overran by the rebels.
In all this confusion I was praying not for survival but for a peaceful death. I could not believe that a miracle could happen.
Then what we feared most happened. We heard the rebels shaking the gate to our house. We did not know what to do but we could smell death from outside.
My manager whispered to me. It was a good idea or actually the only option. We climbed in the ceiling. Thank God the ceiling was strong. We closed the antique door of the ceiling after us. Within few seconds of jumping in the ceiling we heard out door crushing down.
I was so scared and I could not breath. I heard the rebels calling out for anyone who might be in the house to surrender. I remained silent.
We could hear the rebels ransacking the house looting anything and everything.
These are not soldiers they are barbaric and lunatics with guns. They showed no discipline but a love for blood. They took out everything from the house. They even took food tomatoes. They behaved like very hungry lions who have made a kill. They tore the house apart. After a long time they walked out. I heard them breaking another house.
You will never believe the actions of these so called religious fighters. I heard them telling the occupants of the house that they have to loose their hands. The screams of pain which followed were sickening. I felt my stomach turning. I felt sick but I was afraid to vomit.
We spent the whole night in the ceiling.
We had gone into the ceiling with some food but no one was hungry.
We spent two weeks in the ceiling. In all these days the rebels kept coming and collect more things from the house.
Rebels fought to control this town in northern for five straight days. We could hear the fighting from the discomfort of the ceiling.
After two weeks we heard more guns and more guns but something told us the Frelimo has retaken the town. We jumped out of the ceiling tired and hungry. I could not open my eyes. The light was blinding.
After some little time I gathered my courage and moved outside. The door was already broken. From the doorway looking outside I could tell that dozens of civilians have been killed and bodies were littering the streets of Palma The fate of scores of some Zimbabwean workers began to unfold. I saw a couple of my countryman lying in the streets with no hands some with no legs.
Bodies were already rotting
Some of the dead had been beheaded, the way the dresses of some dead women lying in the streets suggested that they were rapped. It became clear that an attempt by expatriate workers to flee to safety came under heavy fire, causing many deaths.
The battle for Palma was similar to how the rebels seized the port Mocimboa da Praia in August. The rebels infiltrated men into the town to live among residents and then launched a three-pronged attack. Fighting continued for more than a week until the rebels controlled the town center and then its port. This is exactly they did with Palma.
The battle for Palma highlights the military and humanitarian crisis in this Southern African nation on the Indian Ocean. The three-year insurgency of the rebels, who are primarily disaffected young Muslim men, in the northern Cabo Delgado province has taken more than 2,600 lives and displaced an estimated 670,000 people, according to the U.N.
During the two weeks the rebels ruled Palma most communications with Palma and the surrounding area had been cut off by the insurgents, although some in the besieged town got messages out using satellite phones. The town is where many contractors have been working for a multi-billion-dollar liquified natural gas project by the French energy company Total.
But a few hundred foreign workers from Zimbabwe,South Africa, Britain and France clustered at hotels that quickly became targets for the rebel attacks. Many of our people were rapes sodomised and beheaded in these hotels.
An estimated 200 foreign workers were at the Hotel Amarula. On Saturday a band of them in 17 vehicles drove together to try to reach the beach where they hoped to be rescued. The convoy came under heavy fire and only 7 vehicles reached the beach and several people in even those vehicles were killed.
Lameck Mano one of the foreigners who survived the onslaught said
“The beach remained under insurgent fire, preventing rescue efforts from air or sea. The Hotel Amarula remained under attack and I saw people being killed. I saw another Zimbabwean man who was by my side dying. His head splint into fragments under the heavy bullets which lodged in his head. His brains splashed all over my face.” Lameck continued.
I survived by covering myself in blood. I took blood from those who were short and died. I covered myself with this blood. I lay with the dead for seven days. I could smell death but it was feigning death which removes death from me. I survived by the blood of other” said Lameck.
The assault on Palma started Wednesday after many rebels infiltrated the town, according to Mozambique News Reports and Clippings. The coordinated attacks hit Palma “in three directions,” including the airport, Mozambique’s Defense Ministry said.
Mozambique’s defense and security forces are “working tirelessly to re-establish security and order as fast as possible” and will “do everything to guarantee the security” of the local population and of the “economic projects,” Ministry of Defense spokesman Col. Omar Saranga said Thursday in the capital, Maputo.
Mozambique’s military says it has regained full control of the coastal town of Palma, more than a week after it was raided by militant Islamists.
A “significant” number of militants were killed in the counter-offensive, an army spokesman said.
State radio reported that residents who had fled were starting to return – some to homes that were looted.
Dozens of civilians were killed and at least 11,000 displaced after the militants invaded Palma on 24 March.
Morgan Murambwi one of the survivors of the battle of Palma described what he witnessed.
“ a group of foreigners from the hotel made a decision to escape the attack. We had seen soldiers running away from the rebels so we figured out that escaping was the best way. I was driving out company car a Ford ranger twin cab. A number of people jumped in. As I drove out of Palma we were met by heavy gun fire. I saw two cars in front turning into a ball of fire. I head screams and cries for help. I stopped my car and jumped in the forest. As I took cover few yards fro the road I say a group of rebels surrounding the car I was driving.”
Morgan continued “ The rebels were like they were possessed. They took two toddlers from the clutching arms of their parents. I saw one tossing the child in the air. There was no sound from the child. I could not continue looking I looked down and closed my eyes. Two man who were in my car were shot point blank. I remained hidden for some time. Then I heard one shouting that soldiers have reinforced, it was at that time I saw the rebels running in the bush opposite from where I was. Within minutes two trucks with Mozambican soldiers screeched to a halt. Soldiers took position and fired in the direction of the rebels. Some soldiers perused the rebels. When I was fully satisfied that they were soldiers I called out for help. They ordered me to come in the open. Two soldiers freak searched me and saw my passport and my work identity card.it was then I realised that I had been short on the shoulder. I was bundled in the car. For some reason the soldiers did not proceed to Palma. They drove back to a nearest town where they took me to hospital. I later learnt that it was a tactical retreat”
Fierce fighting for control of Mozambique’s strategic northern town of Palma left beheaded bodies strewn in the streets with heavily armed rebels battling army, police and a private military outfit in several locations.
Thousands were estimated to be missing from the town, which held about 70,000 people before the attack began.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility Monday for the attack, saying it was carried out by the Islamic State Central Africa Province, according to the SITE extremist monitoring group.
Names in this article have been altered to protect the families of the victims and those still in Mozambique.