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Who killed Mozambique’s Samora Machel?

Samora Machel
Samora Machel
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The ghost of Machel, the spirit of his ideology should continue to live on as Africans continue to claim fairness in world affairs.

Born more than 200 miles north of Maputo, September 29, 1933 in Chilembene, Samora Machel became the first president of independent Mozambique in 1975. Samora became leader of Frelimo in 1970 after the assassination of Eduardo Mondlane in 1969.

The party adhered to Marxist values which Samora argued were not borrowed from a book but he had adopted after seeing the suffering of his people. His ideas were therefore not fundamentally different from those of Mugabe’s ZANU and Mandela’s ANC thus the support his party rendered to the movements.

In 1984, he signed the Nkomati Accord with South Africa, a largely fictitious agreement to stop supporting opposition movements. South Africa reneged on its obligations, continuing support for Renamo in a bid to oust the Machel regime. In 1986, on the 19th of October, Samora Machel died in a plane crash in the Mbuzini Mountains of South Africa. Almost 30 years later, no concrete explanation has been given as to who did it. The question is not likely to go out of fashion soon, Africa still needs to know who killed Samora Machel, a lion of Pan-Africanism.

What happened on the 19th of October, 1986?

In what seems to be a plot twist in a blockbuster film, in 2003, Hans Louw, a Namibian national revealed to The Sowetan that the Machel plane crash was no accident but a well-orchestrated plan to get rid of the Mozambican statesman. He was not alone as former Rhodesian Selous Scout operative, Edwin Mudingi also claimed he had been part of the ploy and confirmed Louw’s involvement.

Were they just attention seekers? This is a hard question to answer.

The Margo Commission inquiry would rubbish this claim as the findings were that the pilots were at fault and caused the accident but the Soviet investigation proved there must have been a decoy beacon used to drive the plane off its course into the mountains of Mbuzini in Mpumalanga. On the particular day, Machel was in a jet, a Russian Tupolev Tu-134A-3 which plummeted to his death and thirty-three other people. The Margo Commission of Inquiry was established to investigate the crash and it should have included Mozambican and Soviet members but the South Africans refused to include them as equal partners.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Findings

The TRC findings were inconclusive but they largely doubted the Margo finding that the crash was solely due to pilot error. This was in the face of circumstantial evidence. What had been the South African-Mozambican relationship at the time? It is common cause the two countries were not on the best of terms at the time and tempers were at boiling point.

Malawi and South Africa were supporting the Renamo renegades of Mozambique to remove Frelimo from power through unconstitutional means. This sent the countries on a collision course with Machel at one point confronting Hastings Banda “in an acrimonious exchange in Blantyre”. When six South Africans died in a landmine explosion in Mozambique, Minister Magnus Malan of South Africa went on the offensive saying Machel would “clash head-on with South Africa”.

Graca Machel is said to have believed the Malawi government had held a crisis meeting in February after Mozambique threatened to close off Malawi’s access to the sea. It is here that the assassination of Machel was discussed and the proposal presented to President Botha who approved of it. A special team to monitor Machel was then set up.

 It is also alleged in the Truth and Reconciliation findings that after the crash, witnesses saw security personnel dig through the wreckage to find documents which were copied. Mozambique was only informed nine hours after the crash…after the South African team had taken all the documents it needed to copy. The inquiry concluded that there was need for further investigations but in 2016, there has been no new information availed to the world.

What Now?

It is going to be thirty years after the crash in October this year. Dan Moyana, a journalist who almost joined the Machel entourage recounts what has happened over the past 30 years; nothing of consequence. He concludes, “The Machel family and the people of Mozambique need to know what really happened. The anti-apartheid movement needs to know what happened. The people of Africa deserve the truth.”


This is the true reflection of the situation. Africa still is interested in knowing who was behind the death of Samora Machel. Though this might not be soon, what is important now is the influence he has had on African thinking. The ghost of Machel, the spirit of his ideology should continue to live on as Africans continue to claim fairness in world affairs. This is the least the continent can do to honour his memory.