Traumatized Mozambicans Not Receiving Adequate Psychosocial Attention, IMBISA Official

A woman at a camp in Pemba Diocese giving birth to twins without expert help; she delivered the first baby before an ambulance came to take her to hospital. Credit: Fr. Dumisani Vilakati

Displaced people who have undergone traumatic experiences in the embattled Cabo Delgado Province in Northern Mozambique are not receiving enough psychosocial support as attention is given to their other needs such as food and shelter, the Director of the Inter-Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) Secretariat has said. 

In an interview with the ACI Africa correspondent in South Africa, Fr. Dumisani Vilakati who recently visited the Catholic Diocese of Pemba that is hosting hundreds of displaced families warned that the mental situation of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in various camps may deteriorate if they do not get urgent help.

“The psychological situation of people who are traumatized is being downplayed. But in the long run, it will continue to affect the victims of the attacks,” Fr. Vilakati said in the December 5 interview.

Credit: Fr. Dumisani Vilakati

The Catholic Priest however noted that there were efforts by Caritas Pemba, the charity arm of the Mozambican Catholic Diocese, to provide psychosocial support to the victims of attacks.


“In some of the camps I visited, I saw the collaboration that Caritas Pemba has with other agencies like Save the Children who provide some form of accompaniment, especially to the children so they can have a normal life as children, even in that abnormal situation,” he said, recounting his November 29 visit to the Catholic Diocese of Pemba. 

The member of the Clergy of the Catholic Diocese of Manzini in Eswatini recounted having interacted with people who had undergone various kinds of trauma, including watching as members of their families were hacked to death, and having had to walk for hundreds of miles in search of safety.

Credit: Fr. Dumisani Vilakati

“I met people who walked for up to 200 kilometers on foot just so they could escape from danger. The people know themselves from firsthand experience what it means to be under attack and the brutality that comes with it because these people are not just killing people by shooting, not that shooting is good, but these people are hacking their victim,” Fr. Vilakati said.

He described the brutal killings that are too graphic to document, saying, “People have experienced this kind of thing and it is a traumatic situation seeing your own flesh and blood being killed in this way.”

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Credit: Fr. Dumisani Vilakati

The Harare-based Director of IMBISA Secretariat acknowledged the rising concerns over the influx of IDPs in Pemba and noted that the people are still too traumatized to go back to their homes in Cabo Delgado that remains under military control. 

“From their horrific experiences, the people are not sure if they should go back to their homes,” Fr. Vilakati said during the December 5 interview at Christ the King Cathedral of Johannesburg Archdiocese where he celebrated Holy Mass after returning from Mozambique.

“It isn’t safe to return back to Cabo Delgado,” Fr. Vilakati said, and added, “Various armies are still trying to clean up the area. People still have to be resettled in safe areas at the moment. The people themselves know how difficult it was for them to abandon their homes in the middle of the night with practically nothing in their hands except just to grab family and run into the bush.”

The Priest narrated that he visited a camp in which a woman was giving birth to twins without proper facilities and expert help.


Credit: Fr. Dumisani Vilakati

“The woman had given birth to one child. And she was struggling now to give birth to the other one; a very sad situation,” Fr. Vilakati recalled, and continued, “Luckily, the Caritas people came along at that time, and they had to think on their feet and took the woman to hospital. I hope she succeeded in giving birth to this other child. But this just shows how difficult the situation is from many angles.”

He said that the Catholic Church through the contributions of Pope Francis is putting up two health centers, which are still under construction.

The official of IMBISA, an entity that brings together Catholic Bishops from Angola, Eswatini, Mozambique, South Africa, Angola, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, São Tomé and Príncipe, Namibia told ACI Africa that he was welcomed to Pemba by the Apostolic administrator of the Diocese, Bishop António Juliasse Sandramo.

Credit: Fr. Dumisani Vilakati

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Recounting his experience during the visit, the Priest said, “I witnessed the suffering that’s present in the place as well as the good work that is done by the Catholic Church especially through its agency, Caritas.”

“It is a very depressing situation to see so many people lacking basic items such as food, shelter and clothing. Nevertheless, the human spirit is always there; the resilience among human beings is always there to eke out a living even in the most difficult of circumstances,” he said.

The Priest of the Catholic Diocese of Manzini also addressed the emerging crisis of child soldiers in Cabo Delgado and expressed regret that children in the Northern part of Mozambique are growing up surrounded by violence, a situation he said predisposes them to join ranks in the insurgency.

Credit: Fr. Dumisani Vilakati

It has been established that most of the times when some former child soldiers managed to escape and come back home, they are shunned by other community members who fear them.

“In a place of deprivation, like Cabo Delgado, it is obviously easy to recruit young people for nefarious activities, like for fighting wars,” Fr. Vilakati told ACI Africa correspondent in South Africa. 

He added, “It was always interesting for me to ask the people, who the insurgents are. But none of them could really spell out who they are.”

Credit: Fr. Dumisani Vilakati

In Mozambique, Bishop Sandramo has expressed the need to train soldiers in such a way that they are better formed to have a good relationship with the civilians.

Fr. Vilakati said, making reference to his engagement with the Apostolic administrator of Pemba, “When I spoke to Bishop Sandramo at the end of my visit, he raised an important point, which he says he has communicated to the Mozambican government to embark on a serious program of formation of soldiers… that they should not prepare soldiers just to shoot, but they should prepare soldiers with a human heart, who know how to speak to people; who know how to relate.”

The Priest noted that the Church has a duty to underline what it means to be a proper human being and to relate well with others. “I say this because the Bishop indicated that the first time the insurgents came to Mozambique, the army did not enjoy positive relations with the local population.”

Credit: Fr. Dumisani Vilakati

The army is said to have been abusive to the local population, Fr. Vilakati says, and adds in reference to members of the Mozambican army, “They were not very kind to the people. And so, their relationship with the people was very poor.”

The local population is said to be more welcoming to Rwandan soldiers who speak Swahili and started off by treating the people with tenderness.

The Priest said that the Diocese of Pemba is facing many challenges owing to the attacks. These include lack of finances to meet the basic needs of the displaced people and the fact that they have also been victims of the insurgency.

“The Church personnel themselves have suffered the insurgency, even they themselves have had to be displaced,” Fr. Vilakati said.

He narrated the desperation of Catholic Nuns who had been forced out of their community owing to the attacks.

Credit: Fr. Dumisani Vilakati

The three members of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart recounted the day their Bishop called them, instructing them to leave in 30 minutes and warning that the village in which their community was established had fallen under attack.

“They too had to run away to flee the area,” Fr. Vilakati said in reference to the Catholic Nuns, and added that the missionary presence in Cabo Delgado has been terribly affected owing to the attacks.

He said that the Diocese of Pemba is looking after a significant number of IDPs from the over 800,000 that have been displaced in Cabo Delgado. At the Diocese, houses have been constructed to provide shelter to displaced families who are also supplied with basic items such as food and clothing.

Credit: Fr. Dumisani Vilakati

The IMBISA official noted that the Catholic Diocese of Pemba is supported by other Catholic agencies like Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and non-Catholic agencies like United States governments through their USAID, and added, “but certainly the Diocese of Pemba is in need of more resources. They need money, obviously, to be able to run all these projects, and to put up basic housing for a number of people.”

“At a regional level, therefore, I would imagine that more needs to be done to not just pray for Cabo Delgado but also to give material support to the work that is being done there,” he said.

The Priest’s appeal is for the Church to strengthen her efforts towards interventions that work for peace, and goodwill among human beings, “because that's why it exists.”

“The Church exists to spread peace, but also to spread hope that even in the circumstances in which we find ourselves now, everything can be overcome,” the Director of IMBISA Secretariat said, and added, “Even in these circumstances, the Church should support the efforts of agencies who are working in the Cabo Delgado to bring about peace.”

Fr. Vilakati noted that much as the presence of the army was helping to end the violence in Cabo Delgado, the use of the military was not the most suitable means to bring peace in the embattled Mozambican Province.

Credit: Fr. Dumisani Vilakati

“To Cabo Delgado the ultimate solution is to live together in peace and create structures that advance peace and also promote development in that area,” he said, underlining the importance of empowering locals economically.

The Catholic Priest expressed regret that Cabo Delgado is one of the least developed Provinces of the Southern African country even though it is highly endowed with natural resources.

“In fact, somebody was saying to me that Niasa (a Province in Mozambique) might be the poorest Province and then Cabo Delgado is second poorest yet it has so many resources. It is sad that the people don't benefit from these resources,” Fr. Vilakati told ACI Africa correspondent in South Africa.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.