Mystery still surrounds Samora Machel’s death

2015-10-15 14:45
Samora Machel (Picture: AP)

Samora Machel (Picture: AP)

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2016 will mark the 30th anniversary of the death of Samora Machel, the founding father of independent Mozambique, and yet we still do not know who actually caused the Mozambican presidential plane to veer off course and crash inside South Africa on October 19 1986.

President Machel, who had attended a Frontline States summit in Lusaka, Zambia, was on his way back to Maputo on that night aboard his presidential plane. But the plane mysteriously crashed on the rugged hills of Mbuzini in Mpumalanga. Machel and 34 other people, including senior Mozambican government officials and journalists, were killed in the crash.

I recall my own personal and the general public’s sense of shock when the news of Machel’s death was confirmed by the then vice-president of Frelimo, Marcelino dos Santos, live on national radio. I was one of the journalists who had initially been offered a seat on Machel’s plane in order to report on the summit in Zambia.

It was a rare invitation to the External Service of Radio Mozambique, where I worked; to report on the summit direct from Lusaka. However, I was bumped off at the last moment when my boss at the time, the late Iain Christie, was called by the presidency and informed that more members of the government delegation were required to travel with Machel.

When news of the plane crash was broadcast on the morning of Monday, October 20 1986, there was stunned silence in Maputo.

All of us at Radio Mozambique were gripped by a sense of disbelief. Mozambicans, from Rovuma in the north to Maputo in the south, were literally numbed by anguish and grief.

The months preceding the crash had seen rising tension in southern Africa. Mozambique’s civil war was getting worse. South Africa had reneged on the Nkomati Accord, a non-aggression pact signed with Machel in 1984.

Mozambique kept its side of the agreement by forcing ANC exiles to leave the country, but Pretoria never stopped its support for the Renamo rebels fighting the Frelimo government.

On other hand, Malawi had been collaborating with Pretoria by aiding Renamo. The situation came to a head when Machel threatened to deploy missiles on his border with Malawi.

A few years ago former President Thabo Mbeki paid tribute to Machel, describing him as a “towering giant of the African Revolution”. Mbeki said one question remained unanswered – was the apartheid regime responsible for the tragic deaths at Mbuzini where the plane came down?

In 1998, South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) launched a special investigation into Machel’s death. However, it was unable to reach a firm conclusion and said that a number of questions had been raised, including the possibility of a false beacon.

In 2006 the South African government announced it would try to solve the plane crash, which remains one of the great mysteries of the apartheid era. But to date no investigation has reached a conclusion. Today the big question remains: who orchestrated the crash? Was it the apartheid regime? Were there any other forces involved?

As we approach the 30th anniversary of the crash I hope that the authorities will work even harder to solve the mystery.

The Machel family and the people of Mozambique need to know what really happened. The anti-apartheid movement needs to know what happened. The people of Africa deserve the truth.

Read more on:    mozambique

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