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South Africa to review Samora Machel death

afrol News, 9 February - In 1986, Mozambique's founding President, Samora Machel, mysteriously died in a plane crash over South Africa while in conflict with the apartheid regime. Officially, the pilot is blamed for the crash, but most Mozambicans do not believe that. Today, South Africa's Security Minister announced the re-opening of the investigation into President Machel's death.

Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula told the press gathered at the Pretoria parliament that there indeed were good reasons to look into the 19 October 1986 plane crash again. Mr Nqakula refused answering whether he had been presented new evidence or whether he knew something not known to the public. He would only say "there is reason" to re-open the case. Regarding other controversial deaths of anti-apartheid icons, Mr Nqakula said government had "no reason" to open new investigations.

The South African Minister thus did his utmost to give the impression that there were indications of a false conclusion in the South African government report that had concluded that President Machel's pilot had made a fatal error, leading to the crash. Minister Nqakula did not want it to look like he had given into political pressure to reopen the case.

There has indeed been pressure on the Ministry. Sectors of the Mozambican government, one of South Africa's closest allies, are uncomfortable with the investigation made by Pretoria's former apartheid regime into the death of Mozambique's national icon. President Thabo Mbeki in his state of the nation address agreed and mentioned that a satisfactory explanation still was needed for the plane crash.

Late President Machel's widow, Graça Machel, is a prominent person in South Africa and now married to former President Nelson Mandela. Ms Machel has repeatedly called for a new investigation into her late husband's death. These calls have increased in strength now, as late President Machel's death is nearing its 20th anniversary.

There is now wonder that the lethal plane crash of the Mozambican President in 1986 has caused so much controversy. President Samora Machel was at the time the leader of Marxist Mozambique, one of the few countries with a common border with South Africa to defy the potent apartheid regime with strength.

While Namibia was occupied by South Africa and Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana had to keep a low profile due to their dependency on South Africa, Angola and Mozambique had turned into the two countries where the front line fighting between apartheid followers and opponents was occurring.

Mozambique was one of the main hosts for exiles of the African National Congress (ANC) during President Machel's era. South African troops and Mozambican rebels financed by Pretoria were attacking Mozambique's Marxist government and ANC groups based in the country. The situation between Mozambique and South Africa was war-like and President Machel was seen as one of Pretoria's most dangerous opponents.

Shortly before his death, however, President Machel agreed to lower the conflict level with the apartheid regime. A non-aggression agreement was signed between Maputo and Pretoria, where Mozambique promised it would not let the ANC operate from its territory, while South Africa promised to stop funding the Renamo rebels.

Then, on 19 October 1986, President Machel left from a political meeting he had had in Lusaka, Zambia. His small Tupolev 134A jetliner flew south-eastwards over Zimbabwe and approximately followed the South African-Mozambican border towards Maputo.

Shortly after 21:00 hours, the plane crashed into the hillsides of the Lebombo mountains at Mbuzini in eastern Transvaal (now Mpumalanga), only some few kilometres inside South African territory. 34 of the 44 on board died in the crash, including the Mozambican President. According to the South African investigation, the Tupolev's pilot had followed the wrong radio signal, thus turning into South Africa and crashing.

South African Security Minister Nqakula recognises that the official story behind President Machel's death needs revision. "We will deploy some of the best resources we have, human and material, to get to the bottom of that matter," he told the press today. "We owe it to the people of Mozambique to ensure the matter is thoroughly investigated," the South African Press Association quoted him as saying.

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