ThinkAfricaPress.com Harare, Zimbabwe:
The inquest into the assassination of former army commander General Solomon Mujuru ended last week having revealed further mysterious inconsistencies and suggestions of foul play. Although the world may never learn who ordered Mujuru’s death and who carried out the murder, the testimony offered far from exculpated those who have most to gain from Mujuru’s demise last August.
Mujuru, Zimbabwe’s most prominent liberation war hero and husband of Vice-President Joice Mujuru, was assassinated on August 16. His rural farmhouse and body were then incinerated in a purposely-set fire.
Mujuru’s badly burnt body, with many vital organs missing and one lower arm and one lower leg missing, was found face down on a rug. Curiously, the rug remained unscorched despite the burnt body suggesting the body had been lying there before the fire began, thus protecting the carpet. Yet the state pathologist testified that there was smoke in Mujuru’s trachea consistent with death from suffocation and questions have been raised as to how – unlike the carpet – many of Mujuru’s internal organs had been burnt to ash.
The reliability of the post-mortem was also brought into question. In the inquest, the state pathologist claimed that he was compelled by soldiers to examine Mujuru’s body not in the mortuary of the government hospital in Harare, but in the barracks of a military regiment. The tools needed for the post-death examination – literally pliers, a knife, and “blades” – had to be fetched from the hospital so that the pathologist could undertake his investigations in the barracks.
The South African pathologist advising the Mujuru family was unable to cross-examine the state pathologist, but he was at least able to cast doubt on the abilities of the state pathologist to have examined the circumstances of death thoroughly. The fact that the body was buried just four days after the death – much sooner than is customary – also adds to the suspicion.
Other odd inconsistencies emerged from witnesses’ testimonies. A maid, for example, reported hearing gunshots well before the fire broke out. Private security guards about 300 metres from the house also thought that they had heard shots, but could not be sure. The policemen guarding Mujuru’s house from about 20 metres away, on the other hand, claimed to have either been asleep or to have heard nothing. Similarly, whereas the security guard manning the entrance to the farmhouse said that Mujuru had been accompanied by a male person in the front passenger seat, police officers at the farm told the court that Mujuru had been alone, but added that there had been a jacket hanging in the car.
The courts were also told of missing keys and inconsistencies in Mujuru’s behaviour that night. Mujuru, for example, parked in a different place to usual and left unpacked groceries and medication in his car, something his maid said “he would never do”.
Who was in the room with you and the body, the presiding magistrate asked the pathologist. “A police inspector and President Robert Mugabe,” he replied. The crowd at the inquest gasped.
An unsubstantiated rumour also indicates that Constantine Chiwenga, Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, knew about the death of Mujuru well before it was announced. “I know,” he allegedly told a caller informing him of Mujuru’s death at 11pm on the night of the murder.
The Mujuru family wants his body to be exhumed for a proper examination. The inquest magistrate has denied that request, and the family is considering whether and how it can appeal the magistrate’s ruling. Unfortunately, the family and the Zimbabwean nation must also wait up to two weeks for the magistrate to conclude his inquest determination. And when it is completed, he is under no obligation to release it to the public. Instead the report goes to the attorney-general, a Mugabe appointee who has the ability to sequester the inquest findings for months, if not years.
Motives for murder?
Mugabe turns 88 on February 21. He is frail, and suspected of suffering from prostate cancer. If he dies before there is a national election in 2013, or if he campaigns again and wins another presidential term, there will be a brutal battle to succeed him.
Chiwenga and Joice Mujuru, together with Minister of Defence Emmerson Mnangagwa, are among the prominent contenders from within Mugabe’s own ruling ZANU-PF political party. With Solomon Mujuru eliminated, Vice-President Mujuru may find it more difficult to rally support within the party, something which benefits Chiwenga and Mnangagwa.
Solomon Mujuru had also been casting doubt on Mugabe’s ability to contest and win another national election. He had exchanged heated words with Mugabe a few weeks before his murder and Mujuru seemed to be an obstacle to Mugabe perpetuating his rule directly and indirectly. The local press had also been speculating, months prior to Mujuru’s demise, about a possible electoral pact arranged between the Mujurus and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. That possible pact clearly threatened Mugabe as well as the post-Mugabe ascendancy of Chiwenga and Mnangagwa.
There are motives aplenty, and a range of politicians and other political contenders who will conceivably benefit from Solomon Mujuru’s absence as Mugabe ages and Zimbabwe lurches toward a constitutionally-mandated election no later than June, 2013. But the ghost of Solomon Mujuru hangs over all of these pending events, especially if the assassination was intended to eliminate a contending force and send a chilling message to potential new pretenders.