Machel 'false beacon' theory bolstered by newly-released TRC records

24 May 2015 - 02:00 By PREGA GOVENDER


Did a signal from a false beacon cause Mozambican president Samora Machel's plane to stray off course and crash in mountainous terrain near Mbuzini in Mpumalanga on October 19 1986? Testimony by a former Koevoet and military intelligence operative known as "James", who stated that he saw a "moveable beacon" at a military base in Mbuzini weeks after the tragic incident, has lent credence to this theory.The operative's sensational claim - made during in camera hearings at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in June 1998 - has been made public for the first time after the South African History Archive secured the records from the Department of Justice under the Promotion of Access to Information Act.Other startling revelations include:João Honwana, the former head of the Mozambican air force, testified that it "is reasonable to assume" that the South African Defence Force tracked Machel's flight, saw it deviating from its normal path and moving in the direction of where it eventually crashed, but did not warn the crew about this;A statement from the Mozambican medical commission that "persons currently unknown" interfered with six of the 25 bodies, which were found to have 7cm-long incisions on the side of the neck;Testimony by an "underground intelligence" operative in the SADF known as "Ben", who stated that on the night of the crash, a Colonel Steyn had said "that bastard has fallen", a reference to Machel; andAn admission by Anton Uys, a security branch policeman who arrived at the crash scene at 2am, that he had sifted through and collected top secret documents at the site and sent them to his headquarters.Machel and 24 others died when their aircraft, a Tupolev Tu-134A-3, crashed en route from Zambia to Mozambique. There were nine survivors.story_article_left1A team of Soviet experts who also investigated the cause of the plane crash concluded that a decoy beacon had caused the plane to veer off course and crash. The Margo commission of inquiry, established by the apartheid government to investigate the incident, found, however, that it had been caused by pilot error.The TRC concluded that although the investigations raised a number of questions, including the possibility of a false beacon and the absence of a warning from the South African authorities, "the matter requires further investigation by an appropriate structure".A new inquiry into the incident was launched by the Hawks in 2012.At the TRC hearing, "James" gave information about various pieces of equipment that he said he saw at the time of the crash.He said he also saw landing lights at the military base.Asked why he did not think it necessary to report finding the beacon at the time, he said: "My feeling was that this was a blatant international violation of aviation rules, if it was such an operation ... This was also the consideration which prompted me to leave the country."In a 32-page transcript of his testimony, Uys, who was the branch commander of the Lebombo security branch in Komatipoort, said: "I must point out that whilst I was going through these documents, I saw that some of the documents might be valuable for us, and by that I mean the South African government. "mini_story_image_hright1Honwana, commenting on whether it was proper for the South Africans to take blood samples from the bodies without first communicating with the Mozambicans, said: "Absolutely not, particularly in view of the plane it was and the passengers that were there. It was way out of line to do what they did."According to the statement by the Mozambican medical commission, a Professor Nel from South Africa had also declared that the incisions on the six bodies were "not normal procedure".The TRC's lead investigator, advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza, SC, this week expressed reservations about whether the latest inquiry into the Machel crash would yield any results."I don't think there's any keenness to unravel the truth," he said.The acting spokesman for the Hawks, Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi, confirmed that a team from its crimes against the state unit was conducting the new probe.He said they were not yet close to solving the 28-year-old mystery. Listen to the Story-Behind-The-Story here:nbsp;

This article is reserved for Sunday Times subscribers.

A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times content.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Registered on the BusinessLIVE, Business Day, Financial Mail or Rand Daily Mail websites? Sign in with the same details.



Questions or problems? Email helpdesk@timeslive.co.za or call 0860 52 52 00.