Samora Machel: Crash or assassination?

On what would have been Samora Machel’s 80th birthday, Dan Moyane asks the burning question

Samora Machel would have turned 80 today. From his birth in 1933 to his untimely and tragic death in 1986, his life has been intertwined with the old and new South Africa.

A statue in his memory and those of the 34 others who were killed with him on October 19 stands solemn at Mbuzini in Mpumalanga. Machel’s second wife, Graça, is married to South Africa’s former president Nelson Mandela.

I guess the Mozambican expression “Samora vive (Samora lives)” is appropriate and?reminds me of part of the eulogy that Machel wrote for his first wife, Josina, who died in 1971 at the height of Mozambique’s liberation struggle: “Your life continues in those who continue the revolution.”

In a way, Machel’s life continues in many of us who are still asking today whether we will ever know the truth about what happened to him and his compatriots on that fateful night.

Events leading up to the Mbuzini crash indicate that the answer probably lies in South Africa. Until the truth is uncovered, Machel will remain in South Africa’s subconscious.

Machel’s story begins on September 29 1933 at Chilembene in the Gaza province of Mozambique. In his 1988 book, Machel of Mozambique, journalist Iain Christie writes that Machel was “born into a family prosperous by Mozambican standards of the time. This prosperity was the result of hard work, thrift and good farmland”. Machel’s father, Mandande, had worked in the South African mines like countless other young men from southern Mozambique who fuelled the migrant labour system.

In a 1974 interview with Canadian scholar John Saul, Machel said: “I lost many relatives in South Africa?…?including my eldest brother.”

South Africa also played a critical role in Machel successfully making his way to Tanzania in 1963 to join Frelimo, which had been founded the previous year under the leadership of Dr Eduardo Mondlane. The story is told in Christie’s book.

South African liberation heroes Joe Slovo and JB Marks were on their way with a group of ANC cadres to Tanzania from Francistown in Botswana when

a young Machel asked for a lift on the plane.

Marks decided to take Machel on board and leave behind one ANC cadre. Slovo was later to become close to Machel when he and Ruth First lived in Maputo after Mozambique’s independence in 1975.

During Machel’s funeral, Slovo retold the story of how a young Machel hitched a lift with them to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Ahead of Machel’s death, one of the main events that occurred was the signing of the Nkomati Accord he entered into with PW Botha’s apartheid regime.

The accord was signed on March 16 1984 with the sole aim of ending South African aggression against Mozambique.

In exchange, Machel’s government would stop the ANC from operating militarily from Mozambique.

But as weeks went by after the accord was signed, the war in Mozambique intensified with South African covert operations carrying on in clear violation of the accord.

ANC president Oliver Tambo commented at the time that Machel had been forced to hug a hyena.

I was one of a few journalists Machel invited to visit Tete province with him a few months before his plane crash.

There, he told us that Mozambique was determined to stop Malawi being used as a Renamo springboard.

Zambia president Kenneth Kaunda, Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe and Machel held a meeting with Malawi president Hastings Banda in Blantyre, Malawi, in September 1986. A month later as the situation worsened, Kaunda convened an urgent meeting in Lusaka of the Frontline States grouping to discuss how best to resolve the crisis. ANC President OR Tambo was also invited to this meeting.

Machel was travelling back home from this crucial regional meeting when his plane crashed on South African soil.

Pretoria denied involvement in the crash despite numerous witness accounts at Mbuzini of military activity in the area weeks before the crash.

If the apartheid regime had hoped that the crash would be accepted as an accident and with time being forgotten, it miscalculated the impact Machel had as a revolutionary leader across the region.

In a few weeks’ time, we will be commemorating the 27th anniversary of his death.

But the question remains: was the plane crash that killed Machel an accident or a sophisticated assassination plot?

»?Moyane is an anchor on Morning News Today on eNCA

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