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The day Botha killed Machel
Posted: Friday, October 22, 2010

The Zimbabwe Herald
October 19, 2010 - The Herald

WHEN the plane of Mozambique's revolutionary leader, Samora Machel, crashed on the night of October 19, 1986 killing him and 34 others, Apartheid South Africa immediately blamed it on "pilot error".

"The Russian crew were high on Vodka," crowed Pik Botha, the then foreign minister.

Now a new investigation into the crash is proving too hot for South Africa's hitherto "untouchables".

It was with deep consternation that Apartheid South Africa saw the passing of the Portuguese in Mozambique.

The apartheid government dreaded the domino effect.

A revolutionary government led by Samora Machel had taken over power in Mozambique on June 25, 1975, and had started nationalising Portuguese plantations and property.

In addition, he was giving active support, and rear bases in Mozambique, to liberation groups fighting the white minority regimes in Rhodesia and South Africa.

In response, Apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia strangled the Mozambican economy, and created the Mozambican rebel group, Renamo, which set about killing peasants and destroying schools and hospitals built by Machel's Frelimo ruling party.

But the South African support for Renamo and Rhodesia could not stop Zimbabwe's independence in 1980, after which apartheid South Africa grew even more desperate as the inevitable drew closer.

Meanwhile, destabilisation of the young Mozambican state increased dramatically.

Renamo became more vicious.

And even though the Inkomati Accord, a non-aggression pact, agreeing to avoid war or armed conflict between them and resolve their disputes through peaceful negotiations, had been signed between Mozambique and South Africa, Machel's continued support for Nelson Mandela's ANC became a festering sore.

Thus, on October 14, 1986, Machel left his capital, Maputo, to attend a meeting of the Front Line States.

On the agenda was a co-ordinated effort to end apartheid in South Africa.

Before his departure, Machel had organised a meeting with journalists, Frelimo party leaders and the Mozambican military and had told them that he had information that the South African government wanted him dead.

He then left clear instructions on what to do in the event of his death.

On the night of October 19, Machel was returning from the meeting when his plane, travelling over Zimbabwe towards Maputo, crashed into a hillside of the Lebombo Mountains, inside South Africa at Mbuzini, near the junction where the borders of Mozambique, Swaziland and South Africa meet.

Interestingly, the crash site was also near a South African military air base in Komatipoort.

In all, 34 people died, including Machel himself; but 10 others survived, one of whom was a member of the Russian crew, Vladimir Novosselov.

In an interview with the Russian newspaper, Pravda, a month after the incident, Novosselov recounted:

"I am convinced that it was not an accident, but a case of foul play . . . When flying over Zambia, the altimeter, showed 11 400. When we crossed the Mozambican frontier, the Tupolev descended to 10 600. Yuri Novodron [the pilot] ordered contact to be made with Maputo Airport, requesting authorisation to land.

The airport services granted the request.

"Weather conditions were favourable for the flight. Maputo was ahead and to the left of the pilots. To the right and very close was the Mozambique-South African border. We were gradually descending. The altitude was 5 200 metres. Then we dropped to 3 000 metres. We were 113km from Maputo. Novodron switched off the auto-pilot and took over the manual controls. He was an excellent pilot . . . We descended to less than 1 000 metres. The last thing I remember was that the altimeter was reading 970 metres, after that nothing."

In the international controversy that followed the crash, one fact has never been in dispute among the South Africans, the Mozambicans and the Russians.

The Russian Tupolev 134 plane took its death plunge towards the South African border away from Maputo because it was following signals of a VOR navigational beacon, which was not that of Maputo.

They all agree that the plane was misdirected, making a 37-degree turn over Magude, about 100km northwest of Maputo. On approaching Maputo from the left, it rather flew to the right, away from Maputo.

The presidential plane, manufactured in 1980, carried electronic equipment of the current generation using integrated circuits. There is no suggestion that the plane malfunctioned.

Satellite photographs on that day showed that the weather over southern Mozambique was good.

Even though there was a slight increase in cloud cover, visibility remained good.

The Russian crew were found to be sober and physically capable of carrying out their duties. They were of proven competence. The pilot had been flying for 25 years.

The transcript of the cockpit voice recorder had the captain saying: "Making some turns, couldn't it be straight?" To which the navigator replied: "VOR indicates that way." Those words proved ominous. The South African "Margo Commission", set up and run by themselves, proclaimed the crash an accident. It blamed it on "pilot error" but confirmed that the plane had locked on to another VOR which had been mistaken for that of Maputo.

The question was: "Whose VOR caused this so-called pilot error? Where was it stationed? What subsequently happened to the phantom VOR?"

At the Margo hearing (which took place from January 20-28, 1987), the South African government tried very hard to extricate itself from complicity.

It argued that the plane had locked on to a VOR at Matsapa, an airport near Manzini in Swaziland.

They claimed it was the only legitimate VOR which could conceivably be mistaken for Maputo.

But the snag was, the Matsapa and Maputo VORs operated on distinct frequencies and could not be confused by the Russian crew which had flown in and out of Maputo dozens of times and had made 70 percent of their landings at night. Besides, the VOR dial among the instruments of the wrecked plane was locked in at 112,7 Mhz, the correct frequency for Maputo.

Secondly, a projection of the plane's flight into Swaziland's airspace passes 35km to the east of Matsapa. And when a plane follows a VOR, it should eventually pass directly over it.

The only other reasonable explanation was that the plane was lured from its route by a powerful decoy VOR transmitting on the same frequency as that of Maputo.

No such VOR was installed in the whole Southern African region unless it was transported to the vicinity for a purpose.

Such a mobile VOR would have had to be transported by a three-ton truck and would require considerable expertise. The only player with the motive, will and capacity to execute such an operation was the apartheid regime.

Two weeks before the crash, on October 7 1986, the South African defence minister, Magnus Malan, had personally accused President Machel of renewing support for ANC rebels.

On that fateful night (October 19 1986), there was a significant concentration of South African Special Forces in the area. And there was a full military alert. Witnesses have testified to unusual activity including a campsite 150 metres from where the plane first made contact with the ground. This campsite disappeared the following day. The crash area itself was a restricted military zone with a high-powered state-of-the-art radar which the South African government admitted tracked Machel's plane for hundreds of kilometres, even when it was over Zimbabwe. Yet no warning was issued to the plane when it veered off course.

The crash happened at around 9.30pm. There have been unconfirmed reports of some top South African officials arriving at the site within 30 minutes to inspect the damage. Survivors indicate that the South African police arrived at about 2pm, five hours after the crash, and instead of helping the victims, busied themselves with removing documents and money (US dollars).

Medical help arrived at 6am (the next morning). Bodies were tampered with by the South African medical personnel who arrived on the scene (seven-centimetre incisions were made on six bodies).

Pretoria waited until 6.50am before telling Maputo. Even then they were told that the crash had taken place in the Natal province, 200km from the actual site in the Transvaal. Then they seized the Black Box, the cockpit voice recorder for several weeks.

And there followed massive media offensive, led by the South African foreign minister Pik Botha. He suggested that the Russian crew were high on Vodka. But the alcohol concentration was found to be normal for a decomposing corpse. Pik Botha said the plane was obsolete, which was far from the truth.

Some days later, he held a Press conference at which he exhibited a document allegedly taken from the wreckage which he claimed referred to a Zimbabwe-Mozambique plot to murder the South African friend, President Kamuzu Banda of Malawi. How that related to the innocence of South Africa with respect to the crash was another mystery. Pik Botha later admitted that the offensive was an attempt to deflect accusations. Recently, a member of Apartheid South Africa's notorious Civil Cooperation Bureau, has confirmed what the ANC and the Mozambican government have all along believed.

Edwin Louw, the CCB man, now serving a 28-year sentence for crimes committed outside the regime's instructions, has decided to come clean.

He has nothing to lose.

According to a report by the Sowetan newspaper's Sunday World, which has done a sterling job uncovering the truth, Louw has confirmed that Machel's death was no accident but by design.

The conclusion that the plane was brought down by a false beacon purposefully installed by covert forces of the apartheid regime was true, according to Louw.

He was part of a Plan B, a standby team armed with missiles and tasked with the job of ensuring that President Machel's plane came down, if Plan A failed.

According to Louw, his B team was not called into operation because the original plan to lure the plane off course with a false beacon worked.

This was done by intercepting the communication system of the plane, reminiscent of the Hollywood movie, Die Hard 2.

Louw, a Namibian, is apparently an old hand. In a rerun of the Machel murder, he has confessed that he was also on a team that lured an Angolan military plane off course by using a false beacon, causing a crash that killed key figures in the Angolan military in 1989.

In another twist, Louw claims he was part of a squad that spied on the Namibian activist, Anton Lubowski, whose death has remained a mystery.

He has promised to reveal the name of Lubowski's killers.

Now more skeletons are emerging from the cupboard as the revelations come to light.

Edwin Mudingi, a former Rhodesian Selous Scout operative, has joined the chorus.

He has corroborated Louw's story by confirming that he [Mudingi] was part of the standby hit squad.

"I was with Louw, armed with a portable surface to air missile to shoot down the plane if the plan to lure it away failed," Mudingi is reported to have said.

Speaking to the Sunday World, another CCB operative who now operates a taxi business, has further alleged that the operation to assassinate President Machel was approved by apartheid's premier security organ, the State Security Council.

According to him, the final briefing for the assassination was held at "Spitscop", the Special Forces headquarters in Pretoria on October 17, 1986, two days before Machel's death plunge.

He asserts that South African military intelligence received a tip-off from their spy in Mozambique that President Machel would fly back to Maputo on October 19. "Our CCB cell was then put on standby at the Hoedspruit air force base," disclosed Mudingi. "I challenge both the police and Scorpions to demand the Special Forces generals hand over the minutes of the October 17, 1986 briefing.

The operation has its name and the public have a right to know what it was." But that will be a tall order. When the prospect of black majority rule dawned, the apartheid government embarked on a massive dean up operation to cover its tracks. Tons of government documents were shredded!

Edwin Louw says he decided to confess after meeting with what he calls "Prime Evil" Eugene De-Kock, a notorious apartheid operative. A former member of the CCB and commander of Vlakplaas, De-Kock is serving several life sentences for murders that were deemed to be outside the services of the State.

Louw is again in court (at the time of writing) accused of being a hitman in six murders and 70 attempted murder cases. The evil that men do lives after them indeed!

Louw's former comfortable bosses, ostensibly immune from prosecution, are now quivering.

There have been reports that President Machel was alive when the plane crashed but was poisoned to death by a lethal injection. A special investigation unit probing this allegation claims to have statements from military police officers and eyewitnesses who say Machel was alive, and that he was indeed given an injection.

Pik Botha, the apartheid foreign minister for 17 years, is said to be one of the top officials who arrived at the scene of the crash within 30 minutes, accompanied by a doctor from the "Seventh Medical Battalion" based in Pretoria.

The battalion specialised in poisoning apartheid opponents and was headed by none other than Dr Wouter Basson, head of the apartheid secretive chemical and biological weapons project Pik Botha has denied this, saying he arrived a day after the crash and saw Machel "very dead".

The pathologist who conducted Machel's post-mortem, Dr J. Nel, has refuted the poison claim, saying there was no chance that Machel could have survived the crash.

He is the same doctor who says the seven-centimetre incisions made on the six bodies from the plane were to collect blood samples.

So, what happened to the beacon of death? A former member of South Africa's infamous Koevoet, says the security police disposed of the beacon by throwing it into the sea, off the Kwazulu-Natal coast at night. He claims to have first seen the beacon at the Tonga police station in Mpumalanga province the day after the crash, and saw it being transported in a truck escorted by heavily armed security police.

He claims to know the security police members who transported and got rid of the beacon.

But as divine justice will have it, the curtain has not fallen yet. Not just yet.

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