DARC Ethiophile Chronicles
On this day
19 January, 1999 the Samora Machel monument was unveiled.
The Samora Machel memorial erected at Mbuzini in the Nkomazi municipality, Mpumalanga, was unveiled by Former President Nelson Mandela in a moving ceremony witnessed by thousands of South Africans, Mozambicans and members of the local and international communities. The memorial was constructed at the site of the plane crash that killed the Mozambican leader and twenty-four others, including ministers and officials of the Mozambique government.
On 19 October 1986, the Mozambican presidential aircraft, a Tupolev TU 134A-3 was returning from Zambia after the Lusaka Summit to be in time for Ms Graça Machel's birthday. President Samora Machel and twenty-four others died when the plane crashed in the mountainous terrain near Mbuzini near Komatipoort. The crash site is in the little triangle where the borders of Swaziland and Mozambique meet the South African border in the Lebombo Mountains.
The Margo Commission of Inquiry was established to investigate the crash and concluded that it had been caused by pilot error. A Soviet team also conducted an investigation into the incident, and concluded that a decoy beacon had caused the plane to stray off-course before it crashed into the mountains at Mbuzini.
This Commission's investigation into the matter did not find conclusive evidence to support either of these conclusions. Circumstantial evidence collected did, however, question the conclusions reached by the Margo Commission.
A police video in the Commission's possession shows South African Foreign Minister Pik Botha telling journalists at the crash site that President Samora Machel and others killed in the crash were his and President PW Botha's very good friends, and that their deaths were therefore a tragedy for South Africa. However, cabinet minutes record that, for several months before the crash, tensions between South Africa and Mozambique were increasing.
Shortly before the crash, the Mozambican chief of staff accused the Malawi government of President Hastings Banda of assisting "South African surrogates" (RENAMO, the National Resistance Movement in Mozambique) to set up bases in Malawi, and of issuing travel documents to, amongst others, the RENAMO leader.
A month before the crash, President Machel confronted President Banda in the presence of his Zambian and Zimbabwean counterparts in an acrimonious exchange in Blantyre. President Banda was given an ultimatum to stop his activities or Mozambique would close its borders with Malawi. After the meeting, President Machel called a news conference at Maputo airport, saying that he would place missiles along the border with Malawi and would not hesitate to launch a pre-emptive strike if necessary.
Following this, thousands of RENAMO troops left Malawi and entered northern Mozambique. An escalation of hostilities ensued, threatening to divide Mozambique in two.
In addition, weeks before the crash, six South Africans died in a landmine explosion on the border with Mozambique. South African Defence Minister Magnus Malan threatened President Machel openly for the first time – "he will clash head-on with South Africa" – and alleged that Mozambique had renewed its support for the African National Congress (ANC). This was followed by the termination of 58 000 Mozambican jobs in South Africa, a devastating blow to the fragile economy. South African military activity in Mozambique increased rapidly.
It is clear from cabinet minutes at this time that the South African government believed Mozambique to be on the verge of collapse.
On the night of the crash, President Machel was returning from the Lusaka Summit, which had focused on the liberation of the region.
After the crash, Foreign Minister Pik Botha alleged that the Lusaka Summit had plotted the overthrow the government of Malawi. No proof of this exists.
Further, the State Security Council (SSC) minutes from January 1984 indicate that the Mozambican working group, including General Jac Buchner and Major Craig Williamson, discussed how to help RENAMO overthrow the FRELIMO government (of Mozambique). Later in the same month, the SSC secretariat discussed RENAMO's chances of success.
Ms Graça Machel told the Commission that she believed that the Malawi government had held a crisis meeting in February 1984 – after President Machel had threatened to close off Malawi's access to the sea if that country did not cease its aid to RENAMO. The possibility of assassinating Machel was allegedly discussed. According to Ms Machel, who gave moving testimony, this proposal was later put to President Banda. The following week, Banda dispatched his senior officers to South Africa for a meeting with President PW Botha, who sent back a message of solidarity.
A South African delegation headed by Defence Minister Magnus Malan travelled to Malawi and met with President Banda.
Ms Machel believed that the meeting discussed the formation of a special team to monitor the Mozambican president and to recruit senior Mozambican officials to co-operate with them. They allegedly even discussed the recruitment of an official at the Mozambican control tower.
A Zambian pilot, Mr Frankeson Zgambo, was recruited and trained by Major Craig Williamson to gather information about President Machel. Major Williamson admitted to this, but insisted that he knew nothing of a plot to assassinate the President
There is no doubt that President Machel was under enormous pressure at the time of his death, not least because of divisions in his own party. Ms Graça Machel confirmed previous attempts on his life, attacks on his residences and attempts by South Africa to attack the Mozambican capital. He was also engaged in a radical restructuring of both his cabinet and the military, which could have upset a number of high-ranking Mozambicans.
Of the thirty-four people on board the presidential aircraft at the time of the crash, only nine survived.
One of the survivors walked to a nearby house to ask for help. Arriving back at the scene, he found security force officers already there. Others who arrived to assist, including a nurse, told the Commission that they were chased from the site. They also reported that the security force officers were seen rummaging through the wreckage and confiscating documents. Foreign Minister Pik Botha and Mr Niel Barnard, head of the National Intelligence Service, admitted that documents had been removed from the scene for copying.
Mozambique was informed about the incident only a full nine hours after it happened, after a massive land and sea search. The Commission heard evidence that the Mozambican Minister of Security contacted the South African security forces as soon as the Mozambican authorities realised the plane was missing. They were not informed about the accident.