Mujuru death 'no accident'

21 August 2011 - 14:10 By JAMA MAJOLA
Mourners greet Vice-President Joyce Mujuru and first lady Grace Mugabe at the Mujuru household in Harare this week
Mourners greet Vice-President Joyce Mujuru and first lady Grace Mugabe at the Mujuru household in Harare this week

The former owner of the farmhouse in which retired army commander General Solomon Mujuru died in a fire has questioned how the celebrated liberation fighter could not have escaped from the property "that had more doors and windows than holes in a colander".

The death of Mujuru sent a wave of emotions - shock, grief and anger - over a wide cross-section of society. Most people believe he was murdered, because of the suspicious events and circumstances surrounding his death at his Alamein farm in Beatrice, 60km south of Harare on Tuesday.

Since he was burnt beyond recognition, Mujuru's identity was verified through forensic tests, mainly using dental records.

Mujuru was buried yesterday at the Heroes' Acre in Harare.

Fears abound that Zanu-PF, already in turmoil because of President Robert Mugabe's simmering succession crisis, could be engulfed by a political storm, characterised by acrimonious disputes, intimidation, violence and even killings, after the death of the general.

Guy Watson-Smith, the former owner of the farmhouse, said on Friday he found it inconceivable that Mujuru could not have escaped the fire with so many doors and windows in the building. In addition, there were no burglar bars on any of the big windows.

He said it was not possible for a person to be trapped and burnt to death in a house with "so many big exit points".

"One has to wonder whether the truth about Mujuru's death will ever come out. Our house was a sprawling single-storey building, roofed entirely with asbestos sheeting (which was common in the 1950s when it was built)," Watson-Smith said.

"Of course that makes it absolutely fire-proof, and the walls were brick and cement. All that could have burned was roofing timbers and ceilings, and to imagine the fire spreading quickly without help is hard to do.

"Finally, there were more doors and windows than holes in a colander. Our main bedroom alone had three doors out of it and four double windows. How do you get trapped inside that?"

A fierce uproar has erupted within the ruling Zanu-PF party and the country as a whole, following the death of Mujuru.

But it comes as no surprise as Zanu-PF has a long history of chicanery. In the past, it has gone through a turbulent period of sustained kidnappings, mass trials and executions in the wake of political coups and counter-coups.

The risk of chaos in the party is worsened by the fact that Mugabe is old and ailing ahead of critical elections. His hold on the party has become tenuous.

People are refusing to come to terms and accept that Mujuru, an experienced, trained soldier and shrewd political operator who had survived many hardships in the bush, could have died the way he did - in a house with so many exit points. Also, he was a renowned fighter, trained in the art of escape.

Mujuru was a legend of the liberation struggle and an influential political operator. He was partly responsible for Mugabe's rise to power, after helping him to survive internal plots to oust him. Mujuru also helped his own wife, Joyce, become vice-president, and many politi-cal allies to be ministers.

He also helped business executives in the corporate sector make fortunes for themselves.

Mujuru's family members, relatives, friends and political allies believe he was murdered. Members of his own party, Zanu-PF, also say behind the scenes that they think the general was killed.

Interviews with his relatives, political allies and senior Zanu-PF officials showed the majority think there was "foul play" in his untimely death.

One of his closest friends, Dumiso Dabengwa, also a leading actor and hero of the liberation war, said he only hoped there was no "foul play" in Mujuru's death. Dabengwa said if there had been foul play, it would "complicate" an already complex and hazardous political situation in Zimbabwe.

During the week, mourners at Mujuru's Chisipite house spoke of "murder" in hushed tones.

Even the Zanu-PF rank and file has been singing and chanting "murder", showing most people do not believe that Mujuru''s death was an accident.

Sensing danger on the issue, the decision-making Zanu-PF politburo on Wednesday banned party members from commenting on the issue, except for spokesperson Rugare Gumbo. Joyce Mujuru also appealed for calm.

Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander General Constantine Chiwenga implored people to avoid violence.

This, however, did not stop political and civic groups, including the National Constitutional Assembly, from speaking and demanding a "full, thorough and independent" investigation into Mujuru's death.

Police say they have launched a "full-scale" investigation, although they already want the nation to think a candle caused the fire.

However, workers at the farm and other witnesses dismiss the candle idea as "idle speculation".

Checks at the house and various reports clearly show Mujuru could have escaped the fire through the three exit doors in the bedroom or four windows next to where he was sleeping.