Samora Machel

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Samora Machel
Samora Machel

Samora Moisés Machel (September 29, 1933October 19, 1986) was President of Mozambique from 1975 until he died eleven years later, when his presidential aircraft crashed in mountainous terrain where the borders of Mozambique, Swaziland and South Africa converge.


[edit] Peasant roots

Machel was born in the village of Chilembene, Mozambique, to a poor peasant family. His parents were forced by the Portuguese colonialists to grow cotton rather than food crops, so hunger was prevalent in the family. He attended Catholic school but, when not in class, he had to work in the fields. He studied to become a nurse, one of the few professions open to Mozambican blacks at the time. In the 1950s, his parents had their farmland confiscated and given to Portuguese settlers. To avoid starvation, his relatives went to work in the South African mines in dangerous conditions and, shortly afterwards, one of his brothers was killed in a mining accident.

[edit] Liberation struggle

Machel was attracted to Marxist ideals and began his political activities in a hospital where he protested against the fact that black nurses were paid less than whites doing the same job. He later told a reporter how bad medical treatment was for Mozambique's poor: "The rich man's dog gets more in the way of vaccination, medicine and medical care than do the workers upon whom the rich man's wealth is built." His grandparents and great grandparents had fought against Portuguese colonial rule in the 19th century so it was not surprising that in 1962 Machel joined the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) which was dedicated to creating an independent Mozambique. He received military training in 1963 elsewhere in Africa, and returned in 1964 to lead FRELIMO's first guerrilla attack against the Portuguese in northern Mozambique. By 1970, Machel had become commander-in-chief of the FRELIMO army which had already established itself among Mozambique's peasantry. His most important goal, he said, was to get the people "to understand how to turn the armed struggle into a revolution" and to realize how essential it was "to create a new mentality to build a new society."

[edit] Independence

Converging borders of Mozambique, Swaziland and South Africa
Converging borders of Mozambique, Swaziland and South Africa

That goal would soon be realized. The FRELIMO army had weakened the colonial power and, after Portugal's coup in 1974, the Portuguese left Mozambique. Machel's revolutionary government then took over and he became independent Mozambique's first president on June 25, 1975. At home, he quickly put his Marxist principles into practice by calling for the nationalization of Portuguese plantations and property, and to have the FRELIMO government establish schools and health clinics for the peasants. As an internationalist, Machel allowed revolutionaries fighting white minority regimes in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and South Africa to train and operate with Mozambique. The regimes retaliated by forming a rebel group called RENAMO to destroy the schools and hospitals built by FRELIMO, and to sabotage railway lines and hydroelectric facilities. The Mozambique economy suffered from these depredations, and began to depend on overseas aid - in particular from the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, Machel remained popular throughout his presidency.

Samora Machel was awarded Lenin Peace Prize (1975-76).

[edit] The fatal aircrash

On October 19, 1986 Samora Machel was on his way back from an international meeting in Zambia in the presidential Tupolev Tu-134 aircraft when the plane crashed in the Lebombo Mountains, near Mbuzini. There were nine survivors but President Machel and twenty-four others died, including ministers and officials of the Mozambique government. While there was widespread suspicion—both nationally and internationally—that the apartheid regime was implicated in the crash, no conclusive evidence to this effect has yet emerged.

The day after the crash, Mozambique and South Africa agreed that an international board of inquiry should be established with the participation of the International Civil Aviation Organization. According to the Chicago Convention, South Africa, as the state on whose territory the crash had occurred, would head the investigation. South Africa was obliged to work in partnership with the state of ownership (Mozambique) and the state of manufacture (Soviet Union). However, the Soviet Union and Mozambique did not feel they were taken on as equal partners and therefore withdrew their participation after the initial stages.

[edit] Inquiries into the aircrash

[edit] Margo Commission

South Africa established the Margo Commission of Inquiry to investigate the aircrash. Its investigation was delayed for several weeks by General Lothar Neethling's refusal to hand over the cockpit voice recorder (the black box), which he had seized at the scene of the crash. Having completed its inquiry, the Margo Commission concluded that the aircraft had been airworthy and fully serviced, and that there was no evidence of sabotage or outside interference. In its report, the Commission determined:

"that the cause of the accident was that the flight crew failed to follow procedural requirements for an instrument let-down approach, but continued to descend under visual flight rules in darkness and some cloud without having contact with the minimum assigned altitude, and in addition ignored the Ground Warning Proximity alarm."

[edit] Soviet report

The Soviet delegation issued a minority report saying that their expertise and experience had been undermined by the South Africans. They advanced the theory of complicity of South African security forces and that the plane had been intentionally diverted by a false navigational beacon signal, using a technology provided by Israeli intelligence agents. The Soviet report focused on the 37 degrees' right turn that led the plane into the hills of Mbuzini. It rejected the finding of the Margo Commission, saying that the crew had read the ground proximity warning as false since they believed themselves to be in flat terrain as they approached landing.

[edit] TRC report

Graça and Samora Machel with president P.W. Botha & foreign minister Pik Botha at the signing of the Nkomati Accord in 1984
Graça and Samora Machel with president P.W. Botha & foreign minister Pik Botha at the signing of the Nkomati Accord in 1984

Twelve years after the crash, when the apartheid regime had been replaced by a democratically-elected South African government, a special investigation into Machel's death was carried out by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC's investigation did not find conclusive evidence to support either of the earlier reports. Nonetheless, some pieces of circumstantial evidence collected by the TRC did lead to questions being raised about a number of the Margo Commission's findings:

  • A former Military Intelligence (MI) officer revealed that Pik Botha and a number of high-ranking security officials held a meeting at Skwamans, a secret security police base shared with MI operatives halfway between Mbuzini and Komatipoort, on the day before the crash. They left late that night in a small plane and some, including Pik Botha, returned there after the crash.
  • Although the plane entered a military and operational zone (a "special restricted airspace") which was under twenty-four hour radar surveillance by the highly sophisticated Plessey AR3-D radar system, no warning was given that the plane was off course and in South African airspace.
  • South Africa's 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.

The TRC report concluded that the questions of a false beacon and the absence of a warning from the South African authorities require further investigation by an appropriate structure.[1]

A police video in the TRC'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 P. W. Botha's "very good friends", and that their deaths were therefore a tragedy for South Africa.

[edit] 2006 Investigation

The online edition of the Mail&Guardian of February 10, 2006 reported that the South African government is to reopen the inquiry into Machel's death. Charles Nqakula, Minister of Safety and Security, told reporters in Parliament:

"We owe it to the people of Mozambique to ensure the matter is thoroughly investigated." He added: "Discussions are underway for dealing with the matter."[2]

All of South Africa's law enforcement agencies are expected to be involved in the probe, in co-operation with their Mozambican counterparts.[3]

[edit] Graça Machel

Machel's widow, Graça Machel, is convinced the aircrash was no accident and has dedicated her life to tracking down her husband's killers. In July 1998, Mrs Machel married the then South African President Nelson Mandela. She thus became unique in having been the first lady of two different nations (Mozambique and South Africa), although not simultaneously.

[edit] References

  1. ^ Special Investigation into the death of President Samora Machel. Truth and Reconciliation Commission (South Africa) Report, vol.2, chapter 6a. Retrieved on June 18, 2006.
  2. ^ SA to reopen probe into Machel plane crash. Mail&Guardian. Retrieved on June 18, 2006.
  3. ^ Machel probe to re-open. East Coast Radio. Retrieved on June 18, 2006.

[edit] External links

Preceded by
President of Mozambique
Succeeded by
Joaquim Chissano