Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Was Machel murdered?

Last night's documentary on SABC3, 'The Death of Samora Machel' (see my earlier post) failed to live up to its much-hyped expectations. There is a very serious case for appointing a judicial commission of inquiry into the crash, as Pik Botha suggested: "A Judicial Commission of Inquiry will be able to lay this matter to rest. It will also help in the process of healing between South Africa and Mozambique including the region of southern Africa considering our past."

This is a very brutal past indeed, what with apartheid SA's support of the right-wing rebel group RENAMO which was responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians, the numerous cross-border raids, not to mention bombings of ANC cadres (the most famous victim being Albie Sachs). This all led up to the humiliating Nkomati Accord in 1984 which Mozambique was strong-armed into signing, effectively forcing them to give up hosting SA liberation groups in exchange for SA withdrawing support for rebel groups (which the latter didn't do). The Machel crash is just one event in a traumatic past shared by the two countries, and stirs obvious mistrust.

Graca and Samora Machel along with P.W. and Pik
Botha at the signing of the Nkomati accord in 1984

However, many questions remain unanswered. For instance, the so called 'mobile beacon' that was allegedly used to deter the plane away from its original destination of Maputu. The only evidence of this is anecdotal. One source, Hans Louw, who may or may not be credible after spending so many years in jail, could be harbouring some kind of agenda. Another source, who was shrouded in darkness, claimed to have driven the operatives to the spot where they were supposed to shoot the plane down with surface-to-air missiles. So was the plane to be shot down or diverted? Would they have planned for both? The weather was also incredibly poor that night and the region has had its fair share of aeronautical accidents.

I for one wouldn't put it past the security forces to have committed such an act, especially considering their less than pious approach to national sovereignty and extra-judicial killing in other parts of the region. However, media coverage of the incident can only reveal so much and is limited in its forensic and investigative powers. These are grave accusations and need to be tested in a thorough way.

A new inquiry would also be far better than the initial one conducted by Judge Cecil Margo, who, as Debora Patta pointed out in 1998, "was an honorary colonel with ties to the old South African Air Force [which] was reason enough for him to excuse himself from the inquiry into the Machel crash."

The camera work on the docci was also notably poor, but overall a decent attempt at trying to open up debate about one of history's more ambiguous moments.

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