Business, Economics and Jobs

Zimbabwe: Who killed Gen Solomon Mujuru?


Thousands of mourners gather at Zimbabwe's National Heroes Acre for the burial of Solomon Mujuru, the country's first defence chief and husband of Vice President Joice Mujuru on August 20, 2011 in Harare. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe urged the country's political rivals to stop any violence ahead of elections. Mugabe also used the funeral to lash out at familiar targets of western countries and gays.


Jekesai Njikizana


That's the question many Zimbabweans are still asking about the death last week of Gen Solomon Mujuru, 62.

The controversy over Mujuru's mysterious death increased yesterday when his widow, Zimbabwe's Vice President Joice Mujuru, called for an investigation into the fire that killed him in his farmhouse in Beatrice, a farming community about 40 miles south of Harare.

Appearing on Zimbabwe's state television, a distraught Mrs Mujuru urged an inquiry into the circumstances of the fire that killed her husband.

In front of the television cameras, Mrs Mujuru spoke to members of the national women's soccer team who had gone to pay their condolences. Visibly upset, Mrs Mujuru said she wanted to know everything that happened on the farm the night that her husband died. Joice Mujuru said she “will not rest” until she finds out how her husband, who she described as a “military man,” had burned to death.  

She said she had not been told what happened to her husband between 8 p.m. when he got home on Monday August 15 until midnight when the fire allegedly broke out.

More from GlobalPost: Death of Gen Mujuru sets off political turmoil

Mrs Mujuru said a man of her husband's experience and skill could have easily escaped the fire because the bedroom had many exits.

"There are two long windows, from my side and from his side, that if you want to go out for an emergency — you don't have to jump out, you just lift your leg," she said. "Our little grandchildren, we used to joke with them — that instead of coming through the normal door they would jump into our bedroom using those windows."

Gen Mujuru, under his nom de guerre, Rex Nhongo, was the commander of Robert Mugabe's forces in the 1970s war against white minority Rhodesia. In 1977 he married Joice, who was then a young female fighter in the guerilla army. Their forces triumphed and won the 1980 elections which brought Mugabe to power. Mujuru became commander of the Zimbabwe National Army.

Mujuru retired in 1992 and amassed a fortune, buying farms, businesses and mines. He remained popular and influential in the army and was widely seen as an important power behind his wife's rise to become one of Zimbabwe's two vice presidents. 

There has been fierce rivalry between the Mujurus and Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa for control of Mugabe's ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF).

Because of his history of fighting for Mugabe in the liberation struggle, Gen Mujuru was one of the only people with the stature to challenge the 87-year-old Mugabe during crucial Zanu-PF meetings. In recent years the Mujurus have been seen as moderates in Zanu-PF who supported engagement and accommodation with the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The Mujurus' position was strongly opposed by Mnangagwa, who fought in Mujuru's forces during the liberation struggle. Mnangagwa is seen as a hardliner who opposes any accord or peaceful working relationship with the MDC, which is led by Morgan Tsvangirai.

Another possible challenger to Mujuru is current army commander Constantine Chiwenga. Some in Zimbabwe say that Mugabe himself did not want Mujuru pressing for his wife to succeed Mugabe.

So there a number of possible culprits. But is the fire suspicious?

Yes, according to Guy Watson-Smith, the white Zimbabwean farmer whose property Mujuru seized in 2001.

Watson-Smith said that his farmhouse has an asbestos roof and brick walls so a fire could not easily sweep through the house, speaking in an interview with Zimbabwean journalist Violet Gonda for Voice of America's Studio 7 show. He said the report that Mujuru was trapped in the burning farmhouse is "improbable" and he confirmed Mrs Mujuru's claims that the bedroom had many exits.

"It’s a big sprawling 14-room farmhouse. It’s all on one level and every room is peppered with doors and windows. No windows had burglar bars — they were all big double windows. The main bedroom, where I understand he may have finally been found, has three exit doors just from that one bedroom alone, plus four double windows. So it seemed to me improbable that anybody could be trapped in such an open home."

Watson-Smith continued, saying, "Asbestos as everybody knows is fireproof and the roof was made of asbestos sheeting. The walls of the whole house were made of fired brick and cement so they were completely fire proof. The ceiling and roofing timbers would have been able to be burnt but the fire couldn’t spread quickly through those ceilings and roofing timbers without the walls and the roof burning and the walls and roof could not burn. So it was a pretty safe house from the point of fire."

Watson-Smith also said that he found it suspicious that no one was alerted by the fire and came to Gen Mujuru's aid.

"The front gate to the property is 40 metres from the house. There were a lot of buildings around. There were three other houses, presumably those houses remained occupied and just a couple of 100 yards back, there was an entire village where the farm personnel lived — a whole village of some 80 to 100 houses. I find it implausible that there could have been a major fire in the main house and nobody saw it. That seems very implausible. There were many people around."

Adding further fuel to the controversy, Zimbabwean Finance Minister Tendai Biti, who is a member of Tsvangirai's MDC, charged that Mujuru's death "has Zanu-PF's fingerprints on it." Biti suggested that Mujuru was killed in an internecine war within Zanu-PF over who will succeed Mugabe. 

Zimbabwe's history has many mysterious deaths, including those of Josiah Tongogara and Herbert Chitepo. With so many questions being raised about the farmhouse fire, it looks like Solomon Mujuru's death will be added to the list of suspicious deaths.