SA, Mozam­bique mark Samora Machel death

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Worldwide -

JO­HAN­NES­BURG — South Africa is host­ing a com­mem­o­ra­tion 30 years after the death of Mozam­bi­can Pres­i­dent Samora Machel, who was killed in a mys­te­ri­ous plane crash just in­side the bor­der of South Africa when it was un­der white mi­nor­ity rule.

Graca Machel, the widow of Machel who later mar­ried Nel­son Man­dela, was among those at­tend­ing the cer­e­mony yes­ter­day in Mbuzini, a South African vil­lage close to where Machel and more than 30 oth­ers died on Oc­to­ber 19, 1986, when they were re­turn­ing to Mozam­bique from Zam­bia. There were wide­spread sus­pi­cions that the apartheid gov­ern­ment was re­spon­si­ble for the death of Machel, an op­po­nent of South Africa’s white rulers.

The South African gov­ern­ment at the time blamed the dis­as­ter on the plane’s Soviet crew, say­ing it ig­nored safety pro­ce­dures.

Atop a hill on the bor­der that joins Mozam­bique, Swazi­land and South Africa 35 steel tubes mark the site where Samora Machel’s air­plane crashed. The hol­low pipes — one for each per­son that died — seem to moan when the wind passes, as though in mourn­ing.

A statue of the late states­man will be un­veiled in his coun­try’s cap­i­tal Ma­puto to­mor­row, the an­niver­sary of his death.

The com­mem­o­ra­tions got un­der­way yes­ter­day with a memo­rial ser­vice at the crash site near the town Mbuzini in north­east South Africa, at­tended by Mozam­bi­can Pres­i­dent Ar­mando Gue­buza and his South African coun­ter­part Ja­cob Zuma.

Mozam­bi­can stu­dents still sell DVDs of Machel’s im­pas­sioned speeches on Ma­puto’s streets, and the gov­ern­ment de­clared 2011 “Samora Machel Year” as a tes­ti­mony to his en­dur­ing pop­u­lar­ity.

“The main thing about Samora is he had an extraordinary pow­er­ful com­mon touch,” says aca­demic Colin Darch, who worked at the coun­try’s Ed­uardo Mond­lane Univer­sity in the 1980s.

“There’s some­thing in his vi­sion of what Mozam­bique could be like that speaks to young peo­ple to­day who weren’t born then.”

Born in Chilem­bene vil­lage in South­ern Mozam­bique, Samora Moises Machel worked as a nurse be­fore be­com­ing a revo­lu­tion­ary. He fought for lib­er­a­tion from the 400-year-long Por­tuguese colo­nial rule and be­came the first pres­i­dent at in­de­pen­dence in 1975.

“He was very clear about cre­at­ing a cul­ture of dis­ci­pline and hard work,” says his widow Graca, who served un­der him as ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter and was later mar­ried to the late for­mer South African Pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela.

Machel in­cluded women and peo­ple of all races in the na­tion-build­ing project of the rul­ing party Fre­limo, in stark con­trast with Mozam­bique’s apartheid neigh­bour.

“It was very in­spir­ing and en­cour­ag­ing for me as a South African to see this non-racial spirit work­ing,” re­calls Al­bie Sachs, a for­mer South African con­sti­tu­tional court judge who lived in Mozam­bique at the time and nearly died in a bomb at­tack him­self for his ac­tivism against the white-mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment.

But so­cial­ist poli­cies and a crip­pling civil war from 1977 funded se­cretly by South Africa forced Mozam­bique to its knees.

In a 1984 agree­ment Mozam­bique agreed to send away guer­ril­las of the then-lib­er­a­tion move­ment African Na­tional Congress. In re­turn South Africa would stop bankrolling the rebel move­ment Re­n­amo. Nei­ther kept their side of the bar­gain. On the night of Oc­to­ber 19 1986 Machel was fly­ing home from a con­fer­ence in Zam­bia when his Tupolev air­plane crashed into the Le­bombo moun­tains just a few kilo­me­tres from the bor­der.

A South African-led en­quiry blamed the Rus­sian crew for the ac­ci­dent which killed 35 of the 44 aboard, in­clud­ing gov­ern­ment min­is­ters and aca­demics. But Mozam­bi­cans be­lieved oth­er­wise. “There was an ut­ter con­vic­tion that the plane had been brought down” by the apartheid state, ac­cord­ing to Sachs.

The news of the crash shat­tered Mozam­bi­cans just as they were find­ing their way in post-in­de­pen­dence Mozam­bique. “Peo­ple at work were cry­ing, walk­ing slowly,” he re­calls. And 25 years later Graca Machel feels the same pain. “You re­open the wounds as you go through the de­tails how the day started, how you were in­formed [of the crash], be­cause there is no clo­sure.” — AFP

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