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Zimbabwe Power Broker Dies in Fire

Retired general Solomon Mujuru attends an Armed Forces Day ceremony in Harare, August 11, 2009 (file photo)
Retired general Solomon Mujuru attends an Armed Forces Day ceremony in Harare, August 11, 2009 (file photo)

Former military chief General Solomon Mujuru, one of Zimbabwe's main political power brokers and husband of vice president Joice Mujuru died in a fire at his farmhouse about 55 kilometers southwest of Harare late Tuesday.

Analysts say Solomon Mujuru's death is likely to intensify turmoil in President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party over the question of who will succeed the 87-year-old president.

Mujuru's wife, Joice Mujuru, leads a powerful faction in Mugabe's party and counted on the support of her husband, who still commanded loyalty in the military after heading it for more than a decade.

Many fear it paves the way for Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa to succeed Mugabe. Mnangagwa is accused by human rights groups of organizing much of the political violence in Zimbabwe since its 1980 independence.

Dumiso Dabengwa one of Mujuru’s colleagues from the country's civil war to end minority white rule, which ended in 1979, said Tuesday that his death was a tragedy. “We lost a very brave friend and someone who spoke his mind and was not afraid to criticize when it was necessary to criticize the party or government,” Dabengwa stated.

Dabengwa, then a member of the opposition who was jailed without trial by Mugabe for four years after independence, said Mujuru, then head of the army, played no part in massacres of opposition supporters in the Matabeleland provinces in the 1980s.

Zimbabwe political analyst Brian Raftopoulos said Mujuru’s death had the potential to cause further political instability. “It’s a great shock to ZANU-PF to the country as a whole and certainly has implications for the succession debate in ZANU-PF. It will impact broadly on processes of change within ZANU-PF and that itself will impact more broadly on negotiations over next few months,” he said.

Many political insiders, even some in ZANU-PF say they hoped that Movement for Democratic Change leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, a powerless prime minister in the inclusive government, would form some kind of political alliance with the Mujurus against ZANU-PF hard-liners in the next election.

Mugabe is due Wednesday at a regional summit in Angola where there will be some discussion on Zimbabwe’s slow progress in negotiations towards political reform ahead of new elections which may take place next year.

Some hardliners in ZANU-PF say they want elections before the end of this year even if a new constitution is not in place.