Durban - A Forest Hills man and his friends were on their annual birdwatching pilgrimage in Mozambique when AK-47-wielding gunmen tried to ambush them by firing at their vehicles.
Richard Everett and his nature-loving friends were in two vehicles with a third trailing behind on the dusty EN1/Inhamatanga Road in southern Mozambique when they were shot at last week.
A recent spate of hijackings and armed robberies in areas near the Mozambique and Swaziland borders has forced South African authorities to deploy added army and police personnel to those parts.
But Everett and his friends were on foreign soil.
Seated at the back of the second vehicle, Everett, a former national serviceman, instinctively shouted: “Get down, get down”, when he heard the sound of gunfire.
Everett was with two other people in the vehicle, which was struck twice. There were no injuries.
In the lead vehicle, the driver was struck in the wrist, while an Australian was hit in the leg.
However, the third vehicle carrying more members from Everitt’s touring group had lagged behind during the morning outing and were unaware of what had happened.
About six gunmen, armed with AK-47s, forced the driver to stop.
The male driver was with three women. All were robbed of their possessions, including cellphones, an iPad and cash.
An elderly woman in the group was “man-handled”.
“Never again will we go there,” said Everett.
He said a friend of his, who owned a tour company, arranged birdwatching trips to Mozambique, every year, and they stayed in a lodge near the town of Caia.
It was Everett’s third trip.
“All the southern African birdwatchers go there at this time of the year - it is a birdwatchers’ heaven.”
The incident happened on the second day of their four-night stay.
Everett and his friends believed their attack was planned and that the gunmen were tipped off by locals.
“We left a bit earlier that morning. So I think we caught them a bit by surprise because the gunmen jumped out of the bushes when they shot at us,” Everett said.
He said the drivers of the vehicles did well in that situation.
“Usually, when that happens, cars end up off the road.”
The friends in the two vehicles regrouped and drove to a remote forest where they believed they would be safe.
“When we heard a vehicle driving towards us, we became petrified, but we soon realised it was our third vehicle.
“The driver looked as white as a ghost when he got out,” Everett said.
“We got permission from the army to use a route alongside a railway line to get back to our lodge.
Despite the harrowing ordeal, they saw out their stay, knowing that none of them planned to return.
“The area is known to be inhabited by rarely seen birds,” Everett said.
“During the afternoon of the incident, we went on a walk and sighted an African pitta.
“There are only 33 species of pittas in the world. This was one we needed to see, so it was worth it.”
Everett said they were on edge for their rest of their stay.
“I’ve been to many African countries and I’ve got to say that Mozambicans are the most friendliest, but we all became paranoid after our incident.”
Everett said after their hell-run, they alerted other groups who had planned to visit the area.
“All those groups cancelled their trips,” he said.
Everett’s friend who organised the tour said he wouldn’t arrange future excursions to that area.
The friend, who asked not to be named, said: “Locals look forward to our visits because of the money they earn.
“But we won’t go back there until we are given the assurance that it is completely safe,” he said.