The woman, of Asian origin, who owns an ice-making factory in the Maputo neighbourhood of Malanga, was kidnapped in broad daylight on Thursday. She was held captive in a house in Bunhica, in the neighbouring city of Matola.
According to the police, she succeeded in escaping after the kidnappers allowed her to take a bath. She managed to scale a wall and ran to the next house, where the owners helped her contact the police.
The police raided the Bunhica house, but by the time they arrived the kidnappers had fled, leaving behind two AK-47 assault rifles. The police detained two young men and a woman at the house who all denied any connection with the kidnapping and claimed they did not know the victim was being held in the house against her will.
One of the men, Justino Fumo, owns the house. He told reporters his parents had given it to him. He rented the house to the kidnap gang, but claims he did not know what they were doing.
Fumo said his tenants paid 7,000 meticais (about 234 US dollars) in advance for two months rent. Although he continued to live in an outhouse, Fumo said he did not notice anything strange going on.
The second man, I. Ngomane, said he was just a middleman. His former girlfriend had asked him to find a house that she could rent. “Since I knew that my friend had a house, I facilitated contact between them”, he said. “I don’t know what happened afterwards”.
The third person detained, J. Chongo, is the mother of Ngomane’s ex-girlfriend. She said she had never imagined that her daughter would become involved in kidnapping. She claimed that her daughter had left the country and was visiting relatives in South Africa.
The police do not believe these stories. The director of public order in the General Command of the police, Xavier Tocoli, told reporters that the three were part of the kidnap gang.
The police have declined to name the victim, and say she is now in a safe place, but will not divulge her whereabouts.
The wave of kidnappings, mostly of business people of Asian origin or their relatives, began in late 2011. It took on alarming proportions last week, when there were at least six kidnappings in Maputo.
One of these was caught by surveillance cameras, and shown on the Sunday night news by the independent television station, TIM. The fuzzy images showed three kidnappers operating with military precision, seizing their victim, neutralizing his employees, and making their getaway. The entire abduction only lasted for about 30 seconds. The criminals did not use masks, so perhaps they were unaware that they were being filmed.
Meanwhile, one of the country’s most prominent intellectuals, the novelist Mia Couto, has revealed that he and his family have received anonymous phone calls, demanding money and threatening them with death.
Speaking at a ceremony on Friday celebrating the 11th anniversary of the television station STV, Couto linked these threats with the wave of kidnappings.
“Three days ago my family was the target of insistent death threats”, he said. “These threats have persisted and have plunged our whole family into fear and insecurity. After many anonymous phone calls, the intention was clear – it was to extort money”.
Couto added that he had later discovered “the same criminal threat has knocked on the doors of many citizens in Maputo”.
“It is not possible to downplay this phenomenon”, he warned. “It is happening at a time when, in the country’s capital, people are being kidnapped at an ever increasing rate. These crimes strengthen a perception of abandonment and lack of protection that we have not felt for the last 20 years”.
“Those who are kidnapped are not ‘the others’ – they are Mozambicans like any citizen”, Couto continued. “Every time a Mozambican is kidnapped, it is all of Mozambique that is kidnapped. And every time there is a part of our house that ceases to be ours and falls into the hands of crime”.
“In this fight against forces without a face, without a name, we are all losing confidence in ourselves, and Mozambique loses the credibility of others”, he added. “These kidnappings are besieging us from within, as if it were another civil war, a war that creates as much instability, as any other military action, any other terrorist act”.
The police have taken belated measures to improve their performance, notably by sacking the Maputo City director of the Criminal Investigation Police (PIC), Januario Cumbane. He has been replaced by Eugenio Balane, who previously headed PIC in the northern province of Cabo Delgado.
Cumbane had been in the job for 18 months, and no reason was officially given for his removal. However, sources in the General Command of the police, who requested anonymity, told the daily paper “Noticias” that one of the reasons behind his dismissal was police inertia over the kidnappings.
“Inspector Cumbane and his team were not able to respond to the worrying phenomenon of the kidnappings”, said the paper’s sources. “It is true that some people have been arrested, but more thorough work was expected from the police to deal with this situation”.Post published in: Africa News