Mozambique's International
Relations with South Africa

Dossier MZ-0007, part 4


Button Button


4. South African Aggression Escalates,
January-November 1983

SAAF Mirage fighters

Above: French-made Dassault Mirage III fighters of the SAAF in the early 1980s. These aircraft operated from bases in South Africa only a few minutes away from the border with Mozambique. However, the attack on Matola was carried out by Impala aircraft, according to a statement by Magnus Malan in the South African parliament.

Relations between Mozambique and the apartheid regime in Pretoria reached new lows in 1983, with a series of aggressive actions by South Africa against its neighbour. The US historian Allen Isaacman wrote in the spring that

The war in southern Africa is escalating … Pretoria’s continued sabre-rattling against its African neighbours suggest that this region is likely to become a terrain of increasing international conflict … South Africa’s long-term strategy [is] to intimidate and cripple the young nation (Washington Notes on Africa Spring 1983, p.1.

In May a South African air raid on Matola targeted what was in fact a food-processing plant, killing and wounding several civilians, including women factory workers. The South Africans claimed without evidence that the factory was in fact a disguised ANC base. Six people died and 40 were injured, all of them civilians. At the end of the same month. Mozambican air defences in Maputo shot down an Israeli-made drone over the bay; the assumption at the time was that the drone was sent to test the effectiveness of the Mozambican defence. In 2009, a report was published in the newspaper Notícias identifying Boaventura Muhambe as the soldier responsible for shooting down the drone (click here to download the article in question.

By the second half of the year, Mozambican media were full of reports of impending South African attacks, and South African newspapers such as the Financial Mail were commenting derisively that all that the Frelimo Party had managed to do was improve literacy and support “a substantial rise in the provision of latrines”, as if education and public health were unimportant concerns. In October, bombs were set off in an ANC office in Maputo in an attempt to distract attention from a diplomatic initiative in which President Samora Machel and other senior leaders were touring Western Europe, including France and the United Kingdom. Magnus Malan , the apartheid regime’s Minister of Defence, commented threateningly that the operation was in retaliation for ANC activity, but that South Africa had not yet shown its “iron fist”

In December the mood shifted after Portugal intervened to try to get the two governments talking, and foreign minister Pik Botha paid two quick visits to Lisbon and discreetly met his counterpart, Joaquim Chissano, on the border between South Africa and Mozambique (see next page in this series).

MHN Resources

Consolidated Downloadable Zipped Files

Click on the yellow folder image below to download a zipped file of the fifth of a series of dossiers on South Africa-Mozambique relations. The archive covers the period January-November 1983, and contains 70 documents. New items will be added from time to time: this edition of the dossier is dated 23 October 2021.

Zipped file image