Zimbabwe opens probe into ex-army chief ’s death
AFP HARARE ZIMBABWE on Monday opened a court inquest into the death of former army chief Solomon Mujuru, who was killed last year in a mysterious inferno, in a case that has roiled President Robert Mugabe’s party.
He died in August in a fire at his farmhouse in Beatrice, south of Harare, deepening the divide within Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party where the general’s wife, Vice President Joice Mujuru leads a faction perceived as a more moderate wing of ZANU-PF.
Police have already finished their investigation, but then took the rare step of requesting a court inquest into his death after some, including his wife, queried how he could have failed to escape through the farmhouse’s low-level windows.
The inquest began by looking into speculation that Mujuru was too drunk to make it out a window, with a string of witnesses testifying that he was sober.
A barmaid at a Beatrice motel, where Mujuru was a regular patron, said the former leader of Zimbabwe’s liberation fighters had stopped in on his way home but had little to drink. “He was not drunk,” barmaid Portia Kamvura told the packed courtroom. “He left around 7:00 pm saying he did not want to drink much as he had a journey to make the following morning.” Fellow Beatrice farmer Blessing Madzivire said there had been a power outage on the day Mujuru died, and that the general was sober when Madzivire last saw him.
Joice Mujuru and two of her daughters attended the hearing where 10 witnesses are expected to testify, as well as local police and independent forensic experts from neighbouring South Africa.
Prosecutors said findings by local experts showed that no inflammable substance was used to start the fire while South African forensic investigators said there was no evidence of explosives.
Mujuru, also known by his war name Rex Nhongo, was widely seen as a kingmaker in Mugabe’s party. The general’s brother Joel Mujuru said last year that he believed the death was a murder. Mujuru, also known by his war name Rex Nhongo, was respected across Zimbabwe’s political divide.