The entire Mozambican police force unit in the popular beachfront tourist resort of Ponta do Ouro has been suspended after local residents accused them of extorting bribes from South African tourists.
Several local business owners welcomed the news on Tuesday, which was featured on Mozambique television and the local newspaper O’Pais.
Their suspension follows the wide dissemination of an amateur cellphone video on social media showing an angry crowd blocking a police vehicle and shouting at officers.
The crowd apparently intervened to rescue a tourist who was about to be dragged to a local police station, where they feared money would be extorted from him.
The Mozambican news agency AIM reported on Tuesday that corrupt behaviour by some policemen might be a reason for a decline of tourism to “Ponta” – a popular dive spot and beachfront holiday venue for Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal visitors.
‘Police treat tourists badly’
The town is just north of the KwaZulu-Natal border at Kosi Bay.
The news agency said that during the weekly police press briefing in Maputo on Tuesday, the spokesperson for the General Command of the police, Claudio Langa, said: “The Command has decided to remove the entire police unit stationed in Ponta de Ouro until the truth of the complaints raised by the public is established. Meanwhile, another unit will be placed there”.
Langa explained that the incident occurred when the car used by a group of tourists got stuck on a sandy Ponta de Ouro road.
“The police saw that the car was obstructing the road, and demanded to see the driver’s documents. The tourist presented the legally required documents – but nonetheless, the police demanded that he accompany them to the station,” AIM reported.
At this stage, the crowd intervened and stopped police from taking the tourist with them.
Langa added that “The public say that the police treat tourists badly. Tourists don’t visit places where the police mistreat them. When tourists who are badly treated go back to their home countries, they tell their colleagues that Mozambique is not a good place for tourism”.
Welcoming the news, a local businessmen in Ponta da Ouro told News24 there had been a spate of bookings cancelled three years ago after a Durban couple’s fun weekend getaway in Mozambique turned sour in 2014.
Kloof couple Kevin Stone and his wife Sally said they were told by border officials to leave their teenage daughter Jenna behind while they went into South Africa to draw funds to pay a bribe of R9 000.
The family had apparently been caught in a scam where Mozambican officials do not stamp passports when South Africans enter. When leaving, crooked officials can then demand a “fine”.
The Daily News reported that the Stones had driven to Ponta Malongane for a short holiday in convoy with 15 friends and thought everything was in order when they stopped at the border near Manguzi for the routine immigration checks.
Eventually, acting on the advice of one of the South African officials, the Stones left their passports behind and drove home.
‘There are no problems here’
A local businessman, who declined to be named because of business interests in the town, said many local residents who depended on the tourism industry were becoming increasingly vocal about bribery scaring away potential customers.
However, a member of the Ponta Business Forum who identified himself only as Carilo, said” “No, there are no problems here. Tourists are still coming every day.”
Nevertheless, according to advice on the posted on the Moz.travel website:
“As with most places in Africa – including South Africa – corruption has become a problem.
One of the scams we have encountered is that the Immigration Officials do not stamp all passports presented to them. On your return you are then “fined” for not having it stamped. Please check when it is given back to you that you have been stamped into Mozambique.”
The website also lists the names and numbers of four people who can be contacted for advice if tourists run into any trouble, along with an anti-corruption hotline and the SA High Commission phone numbers .
“When you are pulled off by the traffic police (they wear a white shirt with navy blue trousers) always insist on a ticket and receipt for spot fining.
“When you are pulled off by police (they wear grey uniforms) make sure to ask for identification and ask their name if they want to search your car for illegal objects.