Magazine article New African

Mozambique Inquiry into Machel's Death Reopens: The South African Special Investigation Unit, the Scorpions, Have Re-Opened the Inquiry into the Mysterious Death of the Former Mozambican President, Samora Machel. (Feature)

Magazine article New African

Mozambique Inquiry into Machel's Death Reopens: The South African Special Investigation Unit, the Scorpions, Have Re-Opened the Inquiry into the Mysterious Death of the Former Mozambican President, Samora Machel. (Feature)

Article excerpt

Following leads brought to light during the sittings Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a team of expert investigators led by the deputy director of public prosecutions, Tone Pretorious (who worked on the Wouter 'Dr Death' Basson case), has been detailed to unravel the mystery behind the 19 October 1976 death of the Mozambican leader, Samora Machel.

They will re-evaluate all the evidence and follow new leads and interview more witnesses. It is uncertain whether this will lead to prosecutions, but it is a first step in a saga that has intrigued many.

Every 19 October, a ceremony is held to mark Machel's death. In attendance at last October's (the 15th since the death), were his widow, Graca Machel (now married to Nelson Mandela), President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Nelson Mandela himself, and Jacob Zuma, the deputy president of South Africa who lived in the Mozambican capital, Maputo, for years during South Africa's liberation struggle.

In tribute, Zuma said: "There is no doubt that Machel's tragic death and those of 33 of his compatriots on South African soil binds us further. Today, as we remember them, we dip the revolutionary and freedom flag in their honour because their blood was not shed in vain." On 19 October 1986, Samora Machel was returning from a summit in Lusaka, Zambia, focusing on the liberation of the region when his aircraft, a Russian Tupolev, plunged into the mountainous terrain at Mbuzini, near Komatiport in South Africa, dose to the South African/Mozambican border. Thirty-three passengers, including top ranking Mozambican government officials perished. Ten survived. The then apartheid government of South Africa set up the Margo Commission to investigate the crash. It concluded that it was due to pilot error and bad weather.

But this was rejected by the Mozambican authorities as well as Soviet investigators who concluded that a decoy beacon, possibly planted by South African special forces had caused the plane to stray off course before it crashed. Survivors of the crash have deepened the mystery by saying that the plane was shot down.

With the demise of apartheid and the setting up of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the matter was re-visited. The TRC special investigation into the matter at which Graca Machel testified did not find conclusive evidence to back any of the theories, but said that "circumstantial evidence collected did however question the conclusions reached by the Margo Commission. Thus, the TRC called for "further investigation by an appropriate structure".

The new investigation by The Scorpions comes after a series of events on the case. In 1997, the Mozambican government sent a formal request to the Mandela administration to investigate the possibility that apartheid operatives had used a false navigational beacon to lure the aircraft to its death plunge.

On 19 January 1999, 12 years after Samora's death, a national monument was unveiled at the crash site to commemorate his death. At the ceremony, Nelson Mandela put the events of the crash in perspective:

"It is painful," he said, "that our quest to understand the causes of the crash remains unfinished. The work of the TRC, imperfect as it may be, has laid a foundation on which South Africans can work to forge a common understanding of their past. …

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