UPDATE: On Sunday evening Cindy posted on Facebook that “Francois is reunited with his dad and I believe soon with his mom and the healing will begin”.
As the insurgent attacks grip northern Mozambique, families of South African expatriates in the country are calling for the government to help.
On Saturday Islamist militants seized control of a town called Palma, killing several people including at least one foreign worker believed to be South African and forcing France’s Total to suspend operations at a huge gas project.
Cindy Cooke’s 21-year old stepson, Francois van Niekerk is also missing. Speaking to The Citizen she said the last they heard from him was on Wednesday (24 March) in the afternoon.
“He contacted his dad and said that they [insurgents] had infiltrated the town.” She says her son arrived in Palma on Tuesday to help out in his father’s business, Francios father flew to the country on Friday morning to find his son.
“Since communication has been cut off from Palma to the world we just receive sporadic reports. They still haven’t found Francois.”
There was an attempt to rescue a group of people in a hideout where he was, but efforts were unsuccessful because the area was a hotspot.
“Nobody could go to search or rescue him. When they could, the time they arrived there he already left the hideout.”
The South African Government said it is sending additional staff to its mission in Maputo to help locate, identify and respond to citizens in the country affected by insurgent attacks this week.
Cindy says she contacted Dirco on Thursday and received a response to which email address she should contact. She adds that she is aware of a South African family that was part of the group that sought shelter at the hotel attacked by the militants, two of them will be returning this week.
She described Francios as a “gentle giant”.
“He’s quite a big guy but has a heart of gold, he doesn’t harm anybody. We praying that he uses all his common knowledge to stay safe.”
Cindy is asking for prayers and for his safe return back home. “But there are a lot of people not just South Africans but different nationalities, the locals who need our prayers and we need to send strength to them right now as well.”
The Mozambique government has not given an update on the attacks since Thursday.
During Wednesday’s attack, they forced nearly 200 people including foreign gas workers to seek shelter at the Amarula Palma hotel.
Human Rights Watch said witnesses had spoken of seeing “bodies on the streets and residents fleeing after the …fighters fired indiscriminately at people and buildings”.