South Africa and Mozambique Sign Nkomati Accord Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Samora Machel of Mozambique, facing economic ruin and civil war at home from South African-backed RENAMO guerrillas, made peace with Pieter W. Botha of South Africa, agreeing not to allow the African National Congress to use Mozambique as a platform for undermining South African security. In exchange, South Africa agreed to cut support to RENAMO.

Summary of Event

The end of Portuguese colonial rule in 1974 and the subsequent independence of Mozambique had a significant impact on South African-Mozambican relations. During Portuguese rule, South Africa’s regional strategy was based on the existence of buffer states friendly to the apartheid regime. South Africa maintained a close alliance with the colonial governments and supplied them with various forms of assistance, including considerable military support. Relations with Mozambique, however, deteriorated as the new Marxist government under President Samora Machel highly criticized South Africa’s racist policies and provided sanctuary and support for the African National Congress African National Congress, South African (ANC), the movement committed to overthrowing the South African regime. The new stance adopted by President Machel prompted a response from South Africa that would affect the course of South African-Mozambican relations until the peace treaty of 1994 officially ended the civil war in Mozambique. Nkomati Accord (1984) South Africa;Nkomati Accord Mozambique;Nkomati Accord [kw]South Africa and Mozambique Sign Nkomati Accord (Mar. 16, 1984) [kw]Mozambique Sign Nkomati Accord, South Africa and (Mar. 16, 1984) [kw]Nkomati Accord, South Africa and Mozambique Sign (Mar. 16, 1984) [kw]Accord, South Africa and Mozambique Sign Nkomati (Mar. 16, 1984) Nkomati Accord (1984) South Africa;Nkomati Accord Mozambique;Nkomati Accord [g]Africa;Mar. 16, 1984: South Africa and Mozambique Sign Nkomati Accord[05410] [g]South Africa;Mar. 16, 1984: South Africa and Mozambique Sign Nkomati Accord[05410] [g]Mozambique;Mar. 16, 1984: South Africa and Mozambique Sign Nkomati Accord[05410] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Mar. 16, 1984: South Africa and Mozambique Sign Nkomati Accord[05410] [c]Government and politics;Mar. 16, 1984: South Africa and Mozambique Sign Nkomati Accord[05410] Botha, Pieter W. Machel, Samora Botha, Pik Crocker, Chester

In order to reduce economic dependence on Pretoria, in April of 1980 nine southern African countries (Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe) formally established the Southern African Development Coordination Conference Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC). The primary objective of SADCC was to challenge South Africa’s economic hegemony in the region and support the guerrillas of the ANC who sought to overthrow the apartheid regime. Thus in an attempt to maintain regional dominance and uphold apartheid, the system of racial separation by which the black majority was deprived of a voice in the government, South Africa embarked on a policy of regional destabilization.

For Mozambique, the major instrument of destabilization was the South African-sponsored RENAMO. After Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980, South Africa assumed control of the Mozambican National Resistance movement (Resistência Nacional Moçambicana, or RENAMO). RENAMO and transferred its headquarters to the Transvaal region of South Africa, adjacent to Mozambique. Organized in 1976 by the intelligence services of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to weaken Mozambique’s support for anti-Rhodesian guerrillas, RENAMO became the rival internal guerrilla army to the Marxist FRELIMO (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique, or the Mozambique Liberation Front) FRELIMO government under President Samora Machel. Armed and financed by South Africa, the rebel group sabotaged roadways and railroad lines, burned villages, and plundered agricultural cooperatives, wreaking havoc throughout Mozambique.

From 1982 to 1983, a significant escalation of RENAMO assaults caused severe damage to the already frail Mozambican economy. Along with the damage inflicted by RENAMO, South Africa exerted economic pressure on Mozambique. A partial economic boycott was imposed on the port of Maputo, thus considerably reducing the level of commerce moving through the harbor. Further, by early 1984, South Africa imposed drastic cuts in the number of Mozambicans working in its mines, ending its common practice of remitting wages to the Mozambican government in gold at a preferential rate.

Ultimately, South Africa’s policy of intense regional destabilization forced Mozambique to seek an accommodation with South Africa. The civil war, coupled with the effects of a severe drought, flood, and state mismanagement, proved devastating. Mozambique’s economy was in ruins. President Machel was left with little recourse than to broker a deal with South Africa in order to end South Africa’s support for RENAMO. South Africa too had good reasons to reach an agreement with its neighbor. Not only did South Africa welcome initiatives to alleviate its severe economic crisis, it also sought to neutralize the military capability of the ANC. After 1983, the ANC adopted a more aggressive approach to achieve its goal of ending white minority rule. Assigning a crucial role to guerrilla warfare, the ANC called for an offensive against the state institutions that upheld apartheid. As a result, targets in South Africa were regularly attacked via Mozambique. Feeling the pressure of an invigorated offensive by the ANC, the South African government worked to eliminate these Mozambican bases.

Concerned by these developments as well as Soviet overtures in the region (Moscow had been supplying Mozambique with economic and military support), the United States played an active role in encouraging diplomatic contacts between South Africa and Mozambique. Chester Crocker, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, visited Maputo and Pretoria in early 1983 to jump-start negotiations. The discussions fostered by the United States between South Africa and Mozambique ultimately set in motion the exchange that led to the Nkomati Accord.

On March 16, 1984, President Samora Machel and South African prime minister Pieter W. Botha met in the South African town of Komatipoort, along the border between Mozambique and South Africa. In a public ceremony, an agreement known as the Nkomati Accord was signed between the two leaders. In addition to promoting mutual security and cooperation on several economic projects, the main thrust of the agreement formally bound South Africa and Mozambique to a mutual commitment to nonaggression. Both countries agreed to forbid the use of their territories as a base for hostile forces to launch attacks against the other. Moreover, Mozambique agreed to end the ANC military presence in its territory, and South Africa vowed to cease support for RENAMO.

While the Mozambican government quickly implemented its part of the agreement by reducing the ANC presence to a small diplomatic mission, it soon became evident that South Africa had little intention of fulfilling its side of the accord. Although the anti-FRELIMO radio station in South Africa immediately went off the air, RENAMO’s persisting military activities prompted allegations over Pretoria’s continued aid to the rebel movement. Documents seized during a FRELIMO raid of RENAMO headquarters in August, 1985, revealed South African air force supply drops to RENAMO, thus substantiating charges over continued rebel support. Foreign Minister Pik Botha admitted to accord violations and insisted that contact with RENAMO had been maintained in an attempt to revive peace talks with FRELIMO. It also became evident that just before the Nkomati signing, RENAMO received a stockpile of military equipment from South African security forces. South Africa’s reluctance to adhere to the provisions of the accord contributed to the ongoing civil war in Mozambique until 1994.


The Nkomati Accord between Mozambique and South Africa was signed at a time of extensive political unrest in Southern Africa. Decolonization altered the dynamic of the relationship between the two countries and led to the need for an agreement to alleviate military conflict. While the accord failed to bring about any real and lasting peace, it had a positive impact on the economic relationship between South Africa and Mozambique. High-level missions were exchanged between the two capitals to discuss new cooperative ventures in agriculture, health, labor, power, rail transport, security, telecommunications, and tourism. By the end of 1984, Mozambique joined the Lomé Convention, signed a modified Berlin Clause, and joined both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The accord made possible these achievements that ultimately brought about some degree of economic recovery for Mozambique.

In the end, the peace treaty did little to end the military struggle in Mozambique. The apartheid regime of South Africa continued to funnel financial and military resources to the insurgents until a peace accord was ultimately signed between the two factions in October of 1994, putting an end to the civil war in Mozambique. The accord did, however, pave the way for the normalization of relations between the two countries and set the pace for renewed regional cooperation. Nkomati Accord (1984) South Africa;Nkomati Accord Mozambique;Nkomati Accord

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chan, Stephen, and Moisés Venâcio, eds. War and Peace in Mozambique. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998. Account of the peace process that led to the end of civil war in Mozambique. The first three chapters offer a thorough history of the conflict between RENAMO and FRELIMO.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ciment, James. Angola and Mozambique: Postcolonial Wars in Southern Africa. New York: Facts On File, 1997. Examines the differences between the civil wars in Angola and Mozambique. Argues that the war in Mozambique was largely a confrontation between apartheid South Africa and the Marxist regime in Maputo.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Clough, Michael, ed. Reassessing the Soviet Challenge in Africa. Berkeley: Institute of International Studies, University of California, 1986. Martin Lowenkopf’s chapter on the Nkomati Accord provides a detailed discussion of the agreement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Davies, Robert. South African Strategy Towards Mozambique in the Post-Nkomati Period: A Critical Analysis of the Effects and Implications. Uppsala: Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, 1985. Provides a thorough analysis of the Nkomati Accord by discussing the factors that led to the signing of the agreement as well as its impact on policy in Southern Africa.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Metz, Stephen. “Mozambique National Resistance and South African Foreign Policy.” African Affairs 85 (October, 1986): 491-507. Offers a detailed account of South Africa’s regional strategy in response to decolonization in Mozambique and the circumstances that led to the Nkomati Accord in 1984.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Msabaha, Ibrahim S. R., and Timothy M. Shaw, eds. Confrontation and Liberation in Southern Africa: Regional Directions After the Nkomati Accord. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1987. Analyzes the Nkomati Accord and its impact on the balance of power in Southern Africa. The text of the accord is published as an appendix.

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Categories: History