News / Africa

Controversy Surrounds Inquest Into Former Zimbabwe Army Chief's Death

Zimbabwean deputy President Joice Mujuru, left, leaves the Harare magistrates court accompanied by her daughter Kumbirai in Harare,  January 17, 2012
Zimbabwean deputy President Joice Mujuru, left, leaves the Harare magistrates court accompanied by her daughter Kumbirai in Harare, January 17, 2012

The inquest into the 2011 mysterious fire death of Solomon Mujuru, Zimbabwe’s former army chief and liberation war hero, is hearing testimony from some 40 witnesses. The proceedings in Harare will go into next week - longer than anticipated.  Some controversial and also contradictory evidence on several key issues has marked the inquest this week.

Rosemary Short, Solomon Mujuru’s housekeeper, testified that the relationship between him and his police security detail had soured and he complained they were reckless - including randomly discharging their weapons.  

The retired Army chief’s home in Beatrice, south of Harare, was guarded by both police and a private security company. Some question why Mujuru did not escape the fire that that killed him last August with such a protection force.

Testimony from staff, police and private security this week as was frequently contradictory about the events immediately preceding the fire.

The guard at the outer perimeter gate said Mujuru arrived home in a light truck, sober and accompanied by a male passenger. But the police officer at the inner perimeter gate testified Mujuru was drunk, alone in the vehicle with a suit draped over the passenger seat.

One police officer testified that he and two colleagues were actually sleeping before they were alerted to the fire - prompting criticism from widow and Vice President Joice Mujuru.

“So this person in particular was wrong in sleeping on duty," she accused. "Taking circumstances in which these things happened, it is really shocking. And you say to yourself, is this how a person can discharge himself when he is supposed to do his duty.”

Vice president Mujuru - speaking outside the inquest venue - also complained that her family and lawyers had not been given access to key court documents until after the inquest began rather than the required 14 days ahead.

“The concerns were that we were not served with papers that we were supposed to as from yesterday," she noted. "So it is very unfair for a lawyer or for the family to then follow the proceedings. So for them to then continue with whatever supposed to be done, was going to be unfair on the part of the family.”

There has been speculation that a candle or a cigarette may have caused the fire - that killed Solomon Mujuru, 62, on August 16.

But housekeeper Short testified Mujuru did not smoke and there were no candles, matches or cigarette lighters in the bedroom - where the blaze is believed to have started.

His widow and others have said the bedroom had large, low windows and doors with access to the outside -so they cannot understand why he did not escape.

Testimony continues next week into the death of this hero of Zimbabwe’s liberation war - who had a key role in helping President Robert Mugabe into power. They had a falling out in 2008 - possibly because it became widely accepted that Mujuru was pushing for his wife to replace the aging president.

Some analysts say that despite her husband’s passing, Joice Mujuru is the only senior member of the ZANU-PF party, including Mugabe, who could actually beat Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, leader Morgan Tsvangirai in a free and fair election.

The three main parties including the MDC and ZANU-PF have been in a so-called "inclusive" government since 2009.

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