30 years on: Mystery still surrounds Samora Machel’s death


South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa this week called on the continent to remember late Mozambican President Samora Machel as a soldier who fought against poverty and illiteracy.

Ramaphosa was speaking at the 30th anniversary service for Machel who died in a plane tragedy, along with 34 others, in 1986 when their plane crashed in Mbuzini, Mpumalanga. There were two survivors in the crash.

“Samora Machel died on his journey to see a peaceful and stable Africa. He joined the struggle to advance the interests of the African people,” Ramaphosa said.

He added that Machel joined the struggle to advance the interests of the African people. Ramaphosa also acknowledged the two victims that survived the crash. “It isn’t often you find people that have survived a plane crash,” said Ramaphosa.

The SA deputy president stated that South Africans, and Africans in the region owed an enormous amount of support to the people of Mozambique who helped SA and SADC countries gain their independence.

“Africa’s heroes paid a heavy price for the emancipation of the African people,” he said.

South African Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa had positive words to say about what the service stood for. “The commemoration is an opportunity to grow relations and trade in line with the African Union’s agenda 2063,” said Mthethwa.

Mthethwa stated that trade relations between South Africa and Mozambique increased from R29bn in 2012 to R44bn in 2014.

The Minister added that “the crash site will be a permanent reminder for generations to never forget the sacrifices that were made to achieve a free SA.”

Samora Machel Jr spoke on behalf of the Machel family saying his father believed in peace for his people. That peace was not limited to Mozambique. “His ideal lives on today. Samora Machel is alive,” said Machel Jr.

Machel was the first democratically elected president of Mozambique.

Even as the region remembers the 30th anniversary since the plane crash, it is still not known who, or what was behind his death.

President Machel died while on board a plane that crashed in Mbuzini, Mpumalanga, on October 19, 1986, on its way to land in Maputo from a conference in Zambia.

He was leader of the Mozambican liberation movement Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO).

The crash also claimed the lives of Mozambique’s Minister of Transport Luis Maria De Alcantara Santos and the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Jose Carlos Lobo.

The former statesman had not only been instrumental in shaping democratic Mozambique, but he had also been prominent in the struggle against colonialism on the African continent. He was buried on October 28, 1986.

Many Mozambicans were convinced that the crash was as a result of sabotage masterminded by the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Thirty years after his death, very little has happened in a bid to determine what led to the plane crash at a hillside of the Lebombo Mountains in the Mbuzini area.

A South African Board of Inquiry set up in 1987 under Judge Cecil Margo proclaimed the crash an accident and blamed the Soviet crew on board.

It concluded that the plane had received an incorrect radio link which misdirected it off Maputo.

Allegations were also made that the crew consumed alcohol before departing from Lusaka. Since then, three other enquiries have been conducted including one by the former apartheid government.

The matter continues to anger many Mozambicans who have been longing to find closure to this incident.


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