‘In an Hour, I Could be Shot Over Angola’: The Geopolitical Dynamics and Experience of the 1988 Shooting of President Masire’s Jet

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Christian John Makgala
Gaeimelwe Goitsemang
David Norris


Just before travelling to the Angolan capital, Luanda, to attend a summit of the Front Line States, President Quett Ketumile Joni Masire, predicted in a joke that ‘In an hour, I could be shot over Angola’. Indeed, Masire’s presidential jet was shot by the Angolan government forces about one hour after he had left Gaborone on 7 August 1988. This was not necessarily an amazingly accurate prediction or prophecy from out of the blue, but a notion informed by the Angolan civil war and Cold War geopolitical milieu on the ground. About a month later on 13 September 1988, Pope John Paul II during his one day State visit in Botswana said that ‘Botswana was an island of peace in a troubled sea’. Masire and the Pontiff’s statements were made in the context of vicious civil wars in Angola and Mozambique, and liberation wars or struggles in South Africa and Namibia –Botswana’s neighbours in the southern African region. As the Pontiff indicated, this made the region a troubled sea, while the tranquil Botswana symbolised an island of peace in that volatile sea. Masire’s prediction was also informed by a protracted and game-changing multinational Battle of Cuito Cuanavale in south-eastern Angola, which had raged from November 1987 to April 1988. This paper provides the geopolitical context of the Cold War, and circumstances in the region within which Masire’s plane was shot. It is also an account of the doubts raised by the official explanation of how the plane was shot, and the response in Botswana as well as internationally.

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