/ 20 October 2006

Mozambique seeks new probe into Machel crash

Mozambique President Armando Guebuza on Thursday called for a probe into the 1986 plane crash which killed the country’s founding leader Samora Machel, a mystery often blamed on apartheid agents.

”I want to reiterate the commitment of the government to find out the truth on the cause of the plane crash,” Guebuza said at an event in South Africa marking the 20th anniversary of the accident that robbed Africa of one of its most charismatic freedom fighters.

”The results are not only in the interests of Mozambique. Machel was a citizen of the entire world,” Guebuza said.

Hundreds of South Africans and Mozambicans gathered for the memorial service on an isolated hillside outside Mbuzini in South Africa where Machel’s plane slammed to the ground on October 19 1986, killing him and 34 other people aboard.

The event — punctuated by dancing and poetry readings in honour of the one-time guerrilla leader — was also attended by South African President Thabo Mbeki and Machel’s widow Graça, who is now married to anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela.

Women ululated and crowds danced around the new memorial, a forest of iron poles dedicated to the dead, which sits alongside preserved wreckage from the presidential plane.

Error or plot?

Machel, who was 53 when he died, was Mozambique’s first president after the end of Portuguese rule in 1975. He was returning from a summit in Zambia when his plane went down.

A South African inquiry later ruled that an error by the Russian crew caused the crash.

But there is circumstantial evidence to suggest the plane was drawn off course by a false navigational beacon, possibly placed by agents of South Africa’s then-apartheid government which was fighting a last ditch effort to preserve white rule.

The ANC forged close ties with Machel in the 1970s and 1980s, a bond cemented by their common experience fighting minority white rule and Machel’s willingness to continue supporting the group after Mozambique’s independence.

Machel allowed ANC activists to use Mozambique as a base to train and plan operations and did the same for the guerrillas fighting to overthrow the white-ruled government of Rhodesia, which became Zimbabwe in 1980.

Guebuza said he believed Machel was indeed killed by the apartheid regime. Mbeki, who has himself voiced support for reopening a probe into the crash, kept silent on the subject on Thursday but praised Machel for his instrumental role in southern Africa’s liberation struggle.

Machel’s daughter Josina Machel urged the South African government to re-open the case next year.

”I think they will re-open it next year,” Machel told Reuters. ”I think that South African government has had other priorities but now is ready to deal with it.”

Machel, a peasant’s son who infused his Frelimo guerrilla movement with the Marxist teachings of Che Guevara and Mao Zedong, left a mixed legacy in Mozambique, which remains one of the world’s poorest nations.

His 11-year rule was punctuated by political repression, a devastating civil war with the Renamo rebel group, now an official opposition party which boycotted Thursday’s events. – Reuters