South Africa faces the threat of the expansion of Daesh (Islamic State, IS) organisation after the escalation of its attacks in neighbouring Mozambique. The organisation has threatened South Africa to open a front therein in case South Africa engages militarily against the organisation, especially after South Africa sent special forces to support efforts to combat terrorism in Mozambique. This raises many questions about Daesh's incentives for expansion in South Africa, the risks of this expansion, and the possible scenarios to combat it.

Incentives for Daesh’s expansion in South Africa

  • Recruitment and employment of extremist and racist right-wing ideas. For example, groups such as the Kommandokorps continue to espouse principles of racial segregation hostile to coexistence between sects and groups.[1] Besides, the divisions between Sunni and Shiite groups and the spread of religious intolerance within the Islamic community in South Africa provide a fertile environment for the penetration of the Daesh ideology.[2]
  • Planning terrorist activities. Terrorist organisations, such as the Somali al-Shabaab Movement, have long exploited the security context as a safe haven that facilitates the planning of terrorist operations and making use of good communications technology.[3]
  • Funding. Security services had previously revealed many financing operations related to al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab activities. Terrorist organisations such as Daesh benefit from the existence of a corridor between South Africa and Mozambique that is brimming with illegal activities such as drug smuggling that can help Daesh finance its operations.[4]
  • Training. Areas that are not subject to adequate security surveillance by the South African government provide a suitable environment for exploitation in training operations by Daesh.[5]

Opportunities and challenges of expansion in South Africa


  • The growing capabilities of Daesh, and the failure of private military companies in Mozambique, in coordination with the security forces, to stop the organisation's attacks.[6]
  • The return of Daesh fighters to South Africa, where information indicates that an estimated 60 to 100 South Africans had joined the organisation in Syria, and more than half of them returned by 2016.[7]
  • Sleeper cells. On 30 July 2020, the security services revealed the arrest of a cell made up of five foreigners, including a Somali and an Ethiopian, responsible for the Durban attacks in 2018. Daesh flags and videos were found, and investigations indicated that the cell was linked to individuals who travelled to fight alongside Daesh in Mozambique.[8]
  • Direct links with Daesh organisation in Mozambique, especially after the security services identified two terrorists from South Africa in a photo published by the organisation in Cabo Delgado who are linked to cases under investigation.[9] Meanwhile, in 2019, the Mozambican investigation authorities charged Andre Mayer Hanekom (known as "baba mzungu" or "white father"), a South African citizen, with supporting and aiding terrorist activities of Daesh in northern Mozambique.[10]
  • Loose borders. South Africa shares a porous border with Mozambique, which serves as a corridor for extremists wishing to enter South Africa, especially those affiliated with Daesh.[11] Numerous investigations have revealed the entry by extremists into South Africa using counterfeit travel documents.[12]
  • Corruption in the security services and intelligence structures, and the weak capability of security forces to counter threats.[13]


  • The tendency of some countries in the region to act militarily against Daesh. Information indicates that Zimbabwe has already sent 30 members of the special forces to Mozambique to train security forces on combating terrorism, while Tanzania has increased its military presence on the southern border, and it stands ready to fight Daesh from the north.[14]
  • Security cooperation between South Africa and Mozambique. In May 2020, Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor revealed ongoing discussions between her government and the Mozambican government about helping the latter to confront Daesh. Information indicates that troops from the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and the South African Navy (SAN) are preparing to intervene in Mozambique. In a statement, South Africa's Minister of State Security Ayanda Dlodlo said that she was “taking the Islamic State threat very seriously ....".[15]
  • The meeting of the members of the Organ on Policy, Defence and Security Cooperation of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in Harare, on 19 May 2020, and its recommendation to member states to provide military assistance to Mozambique.[16]

Risks of the expansion of Daesh in South Africa

  • The execution of terrorist operations in South Africa. The Dick Advisory Group (DAG) is already involved in carrying out military air strikes against Daesh strongholds in Mozambique, and members of special forces from South Africa are present to train security forces in Mozambique to combat terrorism. South Africa has a well-developed infrastructure that could induce Daesh to carry out retaliatory attacks.[17]
  • Targeting the interests of South Africa and the countries of the region in Mozambique. Zimbabwe, which sent special forces to train security forces in Mozambique, relies on importing electricity and food from Mozambique.[18] South African companies have major investments in exploration projects for natural gas in Cabo Delgado.[19] The South African energy and chemical multinational Sasol has invested heavily in gas exploration projects.[20]
  • Targeting foreign interests in South Africa, as the security context in South Africa motivates terrorist organisations such as Daesh to carry out terrorist attacks, especially attacks on embassies and foreign nationals.

Scenarios for the war on terror in the region

First scenario: South Africa intervenes militarily with the aim of combating terrorism in Mozambique, especially in light of the growing international and domestic demands for a military intervention to combat Daesh terrorism. Discussions are ongoing between South Africa and Mozambique in this regard. Information indicates that in July 2020, South Africa had already deployed special forces in Cabo Delgado.[21] The South African Armed Forces Rapid Intervention Unit is training a group of counterterrorism commandos in Mozambique.[22] However, South Africa is still reluctant to expand its military operations for fear of getting involved in a prolonged war on terror in the region,[23] especially in light of its involvement in implementing measures to combat the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic (Covid-19).

Second scenario: regional intervention through a joint military force of the SADC countries, especially that there is a military mechanism to intervene for combating terrorism, training and exchanging intelligence. In May 2020, the government of Mozambique requested SADC’s help, especially that Mozambique assumed the rotating presidency of the bloc, which helps it obtain military assistance.[24] However, while some countries, such as the government of Zimbabwe, declared their willingness to intervene ,[25] some other countries are still hesitant due to the economic pressures associated with diverting military spending to respond to the coronavirus crisis.[26]

Third scenario: regional intervention through the African Union (AU). African leaders discussed the escalating terrorist threat in Mozambique at the 33rd AU Summit in Addis Ababa in January 2020. This threat was described as a “totally new threat” that has reached “unprecedented levels”. However, despite the AU’s willingness to provide military assistance, it restricted that assistance to information sharing, provision of equipment, and training of security forces in Mozambique.[27]


It appears that the likely scenario for a military intervention to combat terrorism in the region in light of the political and security challenges facing the member states of the SADC grouping is the limited military intervention by South Africa through the provision of logistical assistance and military training to the security forces in Mozambique, and military cooperation and coordination with neighbouring countries such as Zimbabwe and Tanzania.


[1] Raeesah Cassim Cachalia and Albertus Schoeman, Violent extremism in South Africa: Assessing the current threat, Southern Africa Report 7 , May 2017, p.8.

[2] Peter Fabricus, Is Islamist terrorism starting to emerge in South Africa?, 25/10/2018, available at:

[3] Leigh Hamilton, Dave Bax and Rami Sayed, Understanding and Responding to Extremist Threats in Southern Africa, Policy Brief, Issue No. 1, March 2018, p.3.

[4] Tonderayi Mukeredzi, Mozambique’s Insurgency Is a Regional Problem,  1/7/2020,  available at:

[5] Isabel Kreifels, Violent Extremism in South Africa: Is there a Risk?, 5/9/2018, available at:

[6] Sirwan Kajjo and Amancio Vilanculos, Can Regional Powers Help Combat Insurgency in Northern Mozambique?, 23/8/2020,  available at:

[7] Leigh Hamilton, Dave Bax and Rami Sayed, op. cit, p.3.

[8] Brian M. Perkins, Motivations and Roadblocks for South African Intervention in Mozambique, Terrorism Monitor, Issue: 16, August 14, 2020, p.3.

[9] Idem.

[10] SA man accused of terror-related activities in Mozambique to appear in court, 31/2019, available at:

[11] Isabel Kreifels, op. cit.

[12] Idem.

[13] Leigh Hamilton, Dave Bax and Rami Sayed, op. cit, p.3.

[14] Tonderayi Mukeredzi, op. cit.

[15] Idem.

[16] SADC seized with regional security situation …as action is taken on insurgency in Mozambique, 20/5/2020, available at:

[17] Isabel Kreifels, op. cit.

[18] Raeesah Cassim Cachalia and Albertus Schoeman, op. cit, p.4.

[19] Jacco van der Veen,  A Very Private War: The Failure of Mozambique’s Approach to Defeating an Islamist Insurgency, JASON Institute for Peace and Security Studies, 19/7/2020, available at:

[20] Theo Neethling, South Africa’s interest in extremist violence in northern Mozambique, 223/6/2020, available at:

[21] Jacco van der Veen, op. cit.

[22] Pedro Tadeu, A África do Sul deve entrar em Moçambique?, 30/7/2020, available at:

[23] Leighton G. Luke, op. cit.

[24] Idem.

[25] Brian M. Perkins, op. cit. p.3.

[26] Tonderayi Mukeredzi, op. cit.

[27] Liesl Louw-Vaudran, Can the African Union help Mozambique combat terrorism?, 13/2/2020, available at:


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