Durban - A fun weekend getaway in Mozambique turned into a frightening ordeal for a Kloof couple after, they said, they were told by border officials to leave their teenage daughter 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”.
Kevin and Sally Stone and family had driven to Ponta Malongane for a short holiday in convoy with 15 friends last weekend, and thought everything was in order when they stopped at the border near Manguzi for the routine immigration checks.
“I was driving so I attended to the vehicle papers while my husband and the kids went to get the passports stamped,” Sally said.
Kevin walked across to the Mozambique side with their four children aged 17, 13, and 12-year-old twins.
“The officials who stamp passports on that side are in a dimly lit container-type office with a barred window which is raised so you can’t see inside,” said Kevin.
He said they heard stamping and in good faith trusted that their passports were stamped.
Any doubts that their passports were not in order were further allayed when the documents were checked by another Mozambican official when they were pulled over, about 100m from the border post.
“He opened every passport and checked against each person in the car. He closed them again and gave them back to us saying there was no problem, we can go,” said Kevin.
After a weekend of snorkelling and swimming they made their way back to the same border post.
“We got there just after they opened at 8am and checked in our passports,” said Kevin. He then left his eldest daughter Jenna in the line while he went to help his wife pump air into their SUV’s tyres.
“All of a sudden Jenna runs back saying we are needed,” said Sally. Not thinking it was anything serious, Kevin stayed back while his wife and daughter returned to the container.
Kevin was alarmed when he was told by a South African police officer to go to his family’s aid because there was a major problem.
Walking back, he said the Mozambican immigration officer showed him the unstamped passports saying they had come into Mozambique illegally. Three days earlier only Sally’s had been stamped.
On a torn piece of paper, the official scribbled a “fine” and demanded the Stones pay R1 800 for each of the five unstamped passports.
“The official grabbed Jenna into the dark, dingy container, saying they were seizing her while we go and withdraw the R9 000 from the Spar at Manguzi,” said Kevin.
Seething, Kevin went to seek assistance on the South African side of the border, a few metres away. But he said he was told to go back and negotiate the price down.
“I could not believe what I was hearing. They said they could not get involved because it would cause a diplomatic problem,” he said.
“The only price I was going to negotiate was nil.”
The ruckus caught the attention of other border crossers.
“Some of them came up to us and told us that this had happened to them before, especially in December,” said Kevin. “It seems they were targeting large groups with big cars.”
The Stones believe this was a scam to extort money from tourists. Kevin said that had it been a genuine breach of immigration laws, he would have been arrested, or detained and due diligence done.
“They didn’t bother to check the SA stamps or the vehicle papers. If we wanted to get into Mozambique illegally, why would we check in our car and one passport? How can a quick cash transaction fix a breach of immigration laws? What kind of procedure is that?” he said.
The family faced down the “belligerent” officials, and took their daughter. back.
Eventually, acting on the advice of one of the South African officials, the Stones left their passports behind and drove home.
“God knows what would have happened to Jenna if we had left her there,” said Sally, still shaken.
The family, who have been holidaying in Mozambique during school holidays for the past 10 years, say they will never return.
“My (Toyota) Land Cruiser, bought especially for the roads there, is up for sale,” said Kevin.
“I will never set foot back in that country.”
Said Kevin: “Technically, the kids and I are in our own country illegally because we never got stamped out of Mozambique and into SA; we had to abandon our passports. We now have to cancel them and spend R400 each to get new ones.”
Since returning, the Stones have written to the SA Embassy in Maputo and the Mozambican Embassy in Durban, but have not received any response from the latter.
Attempts by the Daily News to get comment from Mozambican authorities were also unsuccessful.
The spokesman for South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Co-operation, Clayson Monyela, directed the Daily News to the Department of Home Affairs whose spokesman, Ronnie Mamoepa, declined to comment, saying it was an issue for the Mozambican officials.
Sally did receive a response from an official at the South African Embassy in Maputo. He said he would do his best to obtain the passports but suggested that her family cancel them.
Kevin called the Hillcrest Saps about opening a case of theft against the Mozambican government. He said he would go to the station this weekend to do this.