Maputo — The order to murder civil society and election observation activist Anastacio Matavel was given on 19 September 2019, when the commander of the death squad told his subordinates, all of them police officers, "you cannot take shifts, because you have a mission".
According to a report in Friday's issue of the independent weekly "Savana", citing the provisional charge sheet from the Public Prosecutor's Office, to which the paper has enjoyed access, these were the words of the commander of a platoon of the police Special Operations Group (GOE), Agapito Matavele, to the four other assassins. Euclidio Mapulasse, Edson Silica, Nobrega Chauque and Martins Wiliamo.
The mission was to eliminate Anastacio Matavel, the Executive Director of the Gaza Provincial Forum of NGOs (FONGA), and Gaza representative of the election observation coalition known as the "Sala da Paz" (Peace Room).
Mapulasse and Silica received express instructions "to follow the steps" of Matavel, while waiting for the arrival of the vehicle that would be used in the assassination.
The first attempt to eliminate Matavel, on 23 September, went wrong, because the murderers confused him with a traffic police officer named Carlos Ubisse. Ubisse was murdered in Chibuto district, taking the bullets that had been intended for Matavel.
But the plans to murder Matavel continued. On 5 October, Agapito Matavele called the death squad members together at the Xirico Bar, in the provincial capital, Xai-Xai. Also present was the commander of the Gaza branch of the GOE, Tudelo Guirrego, who gave the group the "good news" that the car for "the mission" was available.
Chauque and Silica were told to receive the vehicle, which was registered in the name of the mayor of Chibuto, Henriques Machava.
The following day, 6 October, the members of the death squad, plus Guirrego, met for their final meeting, at the Xai-Xai central market.
The instructions given to the group, by those who ordered the attack (whose names have not yet come to light), were not to kill Matavel, but to cripple him. They were told "to shoot at the legs of the victim, to prevent him from walking".
Breaking the legs of their victims was the tactic used by the gangs involved in several high profile kidnappings in the past - such as those of the political analysts Jose Jaime Macuiane in May 2016, and Ericino de Salema in March 2019.
The group was informed that Matavel was due to leave Xai-Xai for Maputo, on 7 October. So at 04.00 that morning, Silica drove the vehicle to pick up his fellow killers from their homes. When the death squad was complete, Silica drove to the Motel Concha, a tourist resort, which Matavel would have to go past, if he was driving to Maputo.
But when the victim did not show up, the gang became impatient. They drove towards Xai-Xai beach, and found Matavel's car parked at the "Salgadinhos de Mama Argentina", a building where Matavel was speaking at the opening of an election observation training session.
They waited for their victim to leave, and Agapito Matavele told the group "the mission cannot fail, because I am under a lot of pressure".
Anastacio Matavel entered his Isuzu car, and drive towards the centre of Xai-Xai and the main road south. A few moments later the death squad drew up the Toyota alongside the Isuzu. Agapito Matavele gave the order to shoot, and any instructions to aim for the legs were forgotten. Ten bullets struck Anastacio Matavel in various parts of his body, including his head.
The Toyota set off at high speed, intending to reach the GOE barracks in Chonguene. But the getaway went badly wrong. Less than a kilometre from the site of the assassination, the Toyota was involved in a major traffic accident, hitting three other vehicles and overturning.
Nobrega Chauque and Martins Wiliamo died in the crash. Silica was injured, arrested and taken to the Xai-Xai provincial hospital.
Mapulasse managed to flee from the crash, with a gun and headed for the Gaza command of the Rapid Intervention Unit (UIR - the Mozambique riot police). Agapito Matavele also fled, taking two guns with him. All three guns were returned to the UIR barracks by Guirrego and Januario Rungo (the Gaza UIR chief of staff).
Mapulasse was arrested later, but Agapito Matavele is still on the run.
Machava admits that he is the registered owner of the Toyota - but claims he was in the process of selling it to one of his subordinates in the Chibuto municipality, Ricardo Manganhe.
Manganhe said he was the true owner of the car but it remained in the mayor's name, since he had not finished paying the agreed price of 250,000 meticais (about 4,030 US dollars, at current exchange rates). However, neither Machava nor Manganhe could show prosecutors any evidence of the supposed sale. It was Manganhe who delivered the car to Nobrega Chauque two days before the murder.
The Public Prosecutor's Office is charging Silica and Mapulasse with the first degree murder of Anastacio Matavel. Since Silica was driving the car at the time of the crash, he is also charged with the manslaughter of Chauque and Wiliamo
Guirrego and Alfredo Macuacua, commander of the Gaza UIR, are also charged with first degree murder, as the "moral authors" of the assassination. Rungo, Machava and Manganhe are charged with complicity in first degree murder.