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Judge Cecil Stanley Margo (born 10 July 1915, Johannesburg, died 19 November 2000, Johannesburg) was a member of the South African judiciary.
Early life and studies
During the Second World War Cecil Margo completed three tours of duty, in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe, flying no fewer than 190 strike missions and eventually assuming command of the renowned 24 Bomber Squadron of the South African Air Force. During this time he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Post War and Israel
In 1948 Margo had started a flourishing career as a trial lawyer aided by his record as a war hero. One day, he returned to his chambers from Court and found an urgent telegram from David Ben-Gurion asking him to come out to Israel to serve as Ben Gurion's chief advisor on the establishment and organization of the Israeli Air Force. Though he had been in combat for years as a pilot in World War II and now had a wife and small child, Margo later wrote in his memoirs that he felt he had to go - the newly declared State of Israel had been attacked by the armies of five Arab countries including some elite divisions and its prospects of survival were dim. Ben Gurion, who knew that air power would be critical to Israel's short- and long-term survival also knew from his commanders such as Chaim Laskov that Margo's record as a commander and combat pilot as well as his expertise in desert warfare made him ideal for the job. When Margo arrived in Israel, he assessed the issues and needs of the Israeli Air Force and hammered out visionary blueprints and strategies that provided the foundation on which the modern day Israeli Air Force was built. Ben Gurion, who developed an admiration and fondness for Margo, asked him to remain in Israel as commander of the Israeli Air Force with the rank of Major General, but Margo declined, preferring to resume his legal practice in South Africa. He remained a staunch supporter of Israel through the years, often returning and visiting Air Force bases.
Appointment to the supreme court
In 1971 Margo was appointed to the South African Supreme Court. In the early 1970s he issued a landmark urgent interdict against the notorious security police to protect the life of an Indian detainee and apartheid activist named Essop.
Aircraft accident investigations
Margo's career is highlighted by significant contributions to aircraft accident investigation. He was appointed to investigate the following high profile air disasters:
- the DC-6 accident, on September 18, 1961 near Ndola in what was the Central African Federation, and in which the then Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld was killed;
- the loss of the Rietbok, an SAA Viscount airliner, which crashed into the sea off East London in 1967;
- the crash of the Pretoria, an SAA Boeing 707 which crashed after take-off from Windhoek in 1968;
- the Tupolev Tu-134 air disaster in 1986 just inside South African territory, which killed Samora Machel, then president of Mozambique, and 34 others;
- the Helderberg air disaster of 1987 which claimed 159 lives when an SAA Boeing 747, the Helderberg, crashed into the sea north-east of Mauritius.
Considerable controversy surrounds a couple of these inquiries, despite the fact that they were international commissions with leading experts from different countries including Britain, the U.S. and Japan. It has been suggested, by people such as Graca Machel (Nelson Mandela's wife) that the investigations conducted by Cecil Margo's international commission were a cover-up for illegal activities by the apartheid South African government. The Mozambican Tupolev Tu-134 air disaster, involving military pilots of the Soviet Union, killed her former husband Samora Machel. The South African government re-opened this inquiry in February 2007 on account of "new information" which led the government to believe the manner in which Margo had carried out the original enquiry prevented the truth from coming out.
In the case of the Helderberg air crash, it is still frequently claimed that the plane was carrying sanctions-breaking chemicals for use in the development of South Africa's atomic bomb, and that these chemicals caught fire on board.[who?] It is claimed this meant that Cecil Margo was secretly called upon by the apartheid South African government not to draw international attention to the cargo and to instead find a different cause of the crash.[who?]. The fact that Margo appointed other international experts in aircrash investigations to this commission and insisted that the cockpit voice recorder be recovered at great expense from the wreckage (which lay at a depth greater than that of the Titanic) suggested otherwise. Years later, the South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission extensively investigated the findings of the Margo Commission and found that there was no evidence to justify repudiating the findings.
Cecil Margo received numerous awards during his lifetime and was an honorary fellow of the South African Institute of Mechanical Engineers; Honorary Deputy President of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists; and Honorary Fellow of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He continued flying until his late 70's and died in 2000 after a long battle with Parkinson's Disease. He is survived by his wife, Marjorie, who resides in Sydney, Australia, and three sons from a former marriage.
- Margo, Cecil (1998). Final Postponement, Reminiscenses of a crowded life. Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball Publishers. p. 298. ISBN 1-86842-071-X.
- "Diaspora", by Howard Sachar
- "Final Postponement" Margo's memoirs
- "Israel, A Personal History" by David Ben Gurion
- Star Newspaper, Rand Daily Mail, 1972
- Special Hearing: Helderberg Flight (Truth and Reconciliation Commission 1998-06-01). Text