The family of André Hanekom, the 61-year-old South African man who died in custody in Mozambique on Monday, believes he was poisoned.
Hanekom died in the early hours of Wednesday in a hospital in Pemba ahead of his court appearance on terrorism charges in that country, which was scheduled for next week.
“We suspect he was poisoned,” Hanekom’s daughter Amanda told News24. “We need to confirm this by having blood tests done, but we first need to recover his remains.”
Amanda said the family feared Mozambique authorities would incinerate Hanekom’s body to “get rid of evidence”.
Hanekom, a business owner from Palma, who lived in Mozambique for 26 years, was first arrested in August 2018 in what initially appeared to have been a kidnapping.
He was allegedly abducted from the parking lot of the Amarula Hotel, just north of Palma, in August last year by four men who wore balaclavas.
‘Shot and kidnapped’
An AK-47 rifle was reportedly used to shoot him and he was driven off in a brown Land Cruiser which had the word “Safari” printed on its side.
However, authorities later said Hanekom had been arrested, not kidnapped, and that he had been facing “a number of charges”.
He had been in custody since.
“He was taken to hospital in a critical condition and admitted to ICU (Intensive Care Unit) on Friday. My mother, Francis, was allowed to visit him and said he was recovering well. [On Tuesday] he was able to sit upright and use his muscles, but [on Wednesday] he passed away.
“Hospital staff told my mother that my dad was struggling to breathe [on Wednesday morning]. How can that be, since he was getting better?”
The Citizen reported that Francis said Hanekom had been diagnosed with pneumonia, but that she suspected poisoning because “he was bleeding under his skin, there was blood in his urine and on his stomach tube”.
She further said she had to hear about his death from friends some five hours after he had died.
News24 could not get hold of Francis, but she sent this reporter a WhatsApp message on Wednesday saying: “My heart is broken. Maybe I could have fought harder. I feel so sorry for our children…”
Phillip Strydom, the chairperson of the Mozambique Foreign Business Chamber, confirmed the family’s suspicion that Hanekom may have been poisoned.
“We will be writing a letter to the high commissioner to request that Hanekom’s remains be brought to South Africa for an autopsy,” Strydom told News24 on Thursday.
“If he was found to have been poisoned, we will push for this to be investigated by the attorney-general. It could have serious political implications,” Strydom said.
According to Strydom, poisoning is a commonly used method of “getting rid” of people in Mozambique.
International Relations and Cooperation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu directed High Commissioner to Mozambique Mandisi Mpahlwa to engage with authorities there to establish the cause of death, News24 reported on Wednesday.
Sisulu requested a feedback report, Department of International Relations and Cooperation spokesperson Ndivhuwo Mabaya said.
Mabaya said the department was also engaging with the high commissioner to ensure that the family was assisted with obtaining the body.
“Most importantly, the minister also directed the high commissioner to engage with the authorities in Mozambique around this matter, so that we understand what has happened and what led to his death. As you are aware, the gentleman was in prison,” Mabaya said.
Mabaya said that the department would have more details surrounding Hanekom’s death and other arrangements in the coming days.
News24 previously reported that Hanekom and two Tanzanians were arrested on December 31, and were named by Mozambican authorities as allegedly being part of a jihadist group operating in the region. According to AFP, the group faced charges including murder and crimes against the state.
Allegedly, Hanekom had been responsible for the logistics of the group and was shot while trying to resist arrest in August. Weapons were reportedly found at his home.
His wife has repeatedly denied the allegations.
Hanekom’s family was left in the lurch many times as he was moved around, with them often not knowing where he was held and, when they located him, being denied access to him.
Court orders ‘ignored’
In addition, two court orders for his immediate release were issued but ignored by police, according to the family.
Strydom confirmed this, saying police in Mozambique may hold a person in custody for up to 60 days without them being charged.
A South African expat who had lived in Pemba for eight years, but who does not want to be named, told News24 that Hanekom was “anything but a terrorist. He was certainly not a jihadist.”
The man said the Pemba area was a smuggling hub for ivory, rubies and drugs, but could not confirm whether Hanekom was in any way involved.
“The oil and gas that were found in that region brought with it a lot of movement. You never know who is involved or what [Hanekom] was suspected of being involved with.”
Amanda’s sister Andrie previously told Netwerk24 that the family believed that influential people were misusing the Mozambican police, as they wanted to get their hands on Hanekom’s beach property in Palma, in the northern province of Cabo Delgado.
The family said they would continue their fight to clear Hanekom’s name.
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