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‘Black Lives Don’t Matter’? Outrage Over Alleged Racist Mozambican Rescue Operation

June 17th, 2021
topics: Racism
by: Cyril Zenda
located in: Mozambique
tags: Al-Shabaab, amnesty international, Mozambique, racism

Black people in Mozambique are dismayed after an Amnesty International report revealed that white people were prioritised during a military operation to rescue hundreds of people who had fallen under siege after insurgents seized the coastal town of Palma in March.

The human rights watchdog says accounts of survivors suggested that the rescue mission that took place at Amarula Palma Hotel - where more than 220 people got holed up after the town of 75,000 people fell to insurgents on March 24 - could have been carried out in a racially discriminatory manner. 

Racial Discrimination In Evacuations?

“Witnesses told us of racial discrimination in decisions about who to evacuate from the Amarula Hotel,” Amnesty International’s regional director for east and southern Africa, Deprose Muchena, said in a report. The watchdog has demanded an investigation into the allegations. 

The rescue mission was carried out by the Dyck Advisory Group (DAG), a South African mercenary firm that was hired by the Mozambican government to help it in fighting jihadist insurgents known locally as Al Shabaab (the youth) who have been wreaking havoc in the southern African nation’s gas-rich Cabo Delgado province since 2017. 

When the militants seized control of the town of Palma, around 220 people, made up of mainly civil servants and foreign workers, took shelter in the beachfront Amarula Palma Hotel. About 20 of these people were white.

Damning Survivor Accounts

One survivor told Amnesty International: “We were about 220 people trapped there in the hotel - we [local Black people] were the majority, and the whites were supposed to be about 20. After the rescue and escape, we were about 170 people still alive. Most of the whites were rescued by helicopters before we left the hotel by car.”

Another survivor said: “We didn’t want all white people to be rescued, because we knew that if all the whites left, we would be left there to die. We heard them talking about the plan to take all the whites and leave the Blacks.”

The witnesses recalled that the manager of the hotel took his two German Shepherd dogs for safety on the rescue helicopter, while leaving people behind. 

An ‘extremely shocking’ incident

“These are alarming allegations that the rescue plan was racially segregated,” Muchena said. “Abandoning people during an armed assault simply because of the colour of their skin is racism, and violates the obligation to protect civilians,” he said, adding that for the hotel manager to “choose to rescue his dogs instead of people is also extremely shocking.”

Mercenary Firm Deny Allegations

DAG has since rejected the allegations of racial discrimination in its operations, saying that its helicopters rescued 24 people from the hotel, six of whom were white and 18 others who were black.

“The DAG team did not choose who would or would not be evacuated. They secured the landing site and loaded the people that were sent to them for evacuation by the lodge manager. This was done six people at a time, at no time did our staff enter the lodge while undertaking the evacuations,” the group said in a statement.

“Most of the people that we rescued over the 10-day period that we undertook operations in Palma, were Mozambican nationals. In fact of the 240 people that we got to safety at the Afungi peninsula only 12 were white, and two of those were bodies that we recovered so that they could be returned to their families,” said the statement.

The mercenary force was also in the eye of a storm in March, after another Amnesty International report accused it of killing civilians through its indiscriminate use of firepower from its helicopter gunships.

“According to 53 witnesses who spoke to Amnesty International, DAG operatives have fired machine guns from helicopters and dropped hand grenades indiscriminately into crowds of people, as well as repeatedly fired at civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, schools, and homes” the report said.

Owned by Lionel Dyck, an ex-military colonel who served in the settler army that bitterly fought to defend white supremacy in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) before later embarking on a career as a soldier of fortune, the eponymous DAG is involved in many quasi-military activities that range from anti-poaching and demining rights to mercenary operations. 

There have been reports linking some South African nationals to the Mozambican insurgency either as operatives or as funders of the militants.

Image: Sanne Houlind

Article written by:
CZ Photo
Cyril Zenda
Author
Mozambique
A woman waits for the authorities to check her belongings as she arrives at Paquitequete beach in Pemba on May 22, 2021, after fleeing Palma by boat with forty nine other people.
© John Wessels
“Witnesses told us of racial discrimination in decisions about who to evacuate from the Amarula Hotel,” Amnesty International’s regional director for east and southern Africa, Deprose Muchena, said in a report.
© Alfredo Zuniga
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