Machel Death’s S.A. Probe

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South Africa is set to reopen an inquiry into a plane crash that killed the then Mozambican President Samora Machel nearly two decades after his mysterious death along with 33 other officials.

Findings of an earlier inquiry put the blame on pilot error but critics and most Southern African governments say it was South Africa's white minority government that used a decoy beacon to cause the crash as part of a wider plan to eliminate its opponents supporting the exiled members of the African National Congress. South African Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula confirmed that the investigations would soon be re-opened.

He could not however shed light as to whether new evidence had emerged. In his state of the nation address, South African President Thabo Mbeki said the 1986 plane crash that killed one of the giants and pillars of the struggle against apartheid, Machel, still required a “satisfactory explanation." Nqakula, separately, noted: "We need to find out who committed that dastardly crime. This is a debt that we owe to the people of Mozambique and it is a debt we shall pay."

In May 2003, a former head of South Africa's brutal intelligence unit, General Tienie Groenewald told a South African paper that Machel was killed when his plane was drawn off course by a false navigational beacon, forcing the plane to crash into mountains at Mbuzini on the border between Mozambique and South Africa on October 19, 1986. He hinted that the same technique was used to kill key members of the Angolan military in 1989. Other lines point to the possibility that Machel survived the crash and was finished off probably with a lethal injection. Apartheid agents in collaboration with the western media cooked up a string of tall lies saying the crash was caused by a pilot who was “high on Vodka� and that the crash involved some of the top generals in the Mozambican army. But some of the findings by Zimbabwean and other intelligence units in southern African suggest that the then apartheid regime of Piet W. Botha had marked Machel for death.

Just months before the crash, Machel accused the late Malawian dictator Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda of collaborating and assisting "South African surrogates" -the Renamo rebels fighting to topple his government with the support of apartheid South Africa. Apparently irked by Kamuzu's support for apartheid South Africa, Machel confronted Banda in Blantyre and the two had a heated exchange over the matter in the presence of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and Dr. Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia who had gone to attend a regional meeting.

Machel threatened to close the Mozambican border with Malawi if Banda did not stop supporting Renamo, which was funded by apartheid South Africa. When he arrived at Maputo airport, Machel told a press conference during which he threatened to mass troops along the border with Malawi and warned he would launch pre-emptive strikes should the need arise.

Soon after this threat, Malawi held a series of meetings with the South African military intelligence during which a plot to kill Machel was hatched. A few weeks before the crash, South Africa openly threatened Machel, with its defense minister Magnus Malan warning Machel would "clash head on with South Africa." The tension got worse with the deportation of more than 50,000 Mozambicans working in South African mines and farms after Malan accused Machel of backing the ANC military wing Umkhonto WeSizwe (MK).

Machel seemed to have been aware of the plot to assassinate him and shortly before he left Maputo for the last time for the Lusaka Summit, he told senior members of his party and army that he was aware of plans to eliminate him by some people collaborating with South African apartheid agents. It is reported that hours before Machel died, that there was a heavy military presence by the South African intelligence agents and special troops in the Mbuzini area where the crash occurred

Political and defense analysts in Zimbabwe and other southern African countries say it has never been explained why people who rushed to the scene to help, among them nurses, were chased away by the military or why Mozambique was only notified of the crash and Machel's death some nine hours later. Machel's Russian pilot - Vladimir Novosselov, a crew member and one of nine survivors also believed that the crash was not an accident. "I am in their way. I have not sold out to anyone. My hands are clean," Machel is reported to have told Carlos Cardoso, a veteran Mozambique scribe a year earlier when they were discussing moves by the South African intelligence to assassinate him.

Soon after the death of Machel, Zimbabwe sent 10,000 troops to defend Mozambique against a possible invasion by South Africa. Mugabe described Machel as a gallant hero and freedom fighter for the liberation of Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia.
"There could be no greater revolutionary anywhere, no greater friend anywhere, no greater husband and father. Please take solace in the immortality of his magnanimous deeds. These shall live forever and tell the undying story of Samora," said Mugabe in a condolence message to Graca Machel, the widow. One hopes that the new inquiry to be conducted by the South African police and intelligence agencies working closely with the Mozambican authorities would finalize the matter unsoiled by apartheid agents and their western sympathizers.

Tsiko is the Black Star News’s Southern Africa correspondent based in Harare, Zimbabwe.

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