It’s a modern-day murder mystery like few others: a dozy policeman, a mysterious companion, strange blue flames and a war hero found dead on his country farm. As the inquest into Solomon Mujuru’s death continues, it’s looking increasingly as if his death was no accident. But who killed him? And why? By SIMON ALLISON.
General Solomon Mujuru – struggle hero, Mugabe confidante, retired army chief and Marange diamond dealer – died an untimely death in a fire at his reclaimed farm in Beatrice, Zimbabwe, in mid-August last year. Although dismissed initially as an accident, an investigation into the blaze is uncovering more and more evidence which suggests something more sinister.
Clement Runhare, one of Mujuru’s guards, said the general was accompanied home that night by an unidentified companion, and that two hours before the fire broke out, he heard gunshots. Why Runhare didn’t investigate the gunshots he didn’t say. The police detail on the farm wasn’t much help either; the man on duty admitted to being fast asleep. When he finally woke up and saw the fire – about three hours after it was initially seen by other witnesses – his radio was broken and he was out of airtime, so he couldn’t call the fire brigade.
The Zimbabwe police assessment on the case dismisses suspicious circumstances, blaming instead Mujuru’s habit of lighting his house with candles when the power was out. But his maid says this was impossible, because she hadn’t left any matches in the house, and Mujuru, a non-smoker, didn’t carry any himself.
This brings us to the puzzle of the blue flame. Local police officers describing the scene spoke of “strange blue flames coming out of both sides of [Mujuru’s] abdomen and around the body”. The colour of a flame is a key indicator as to what might have started it, and research by Zimbabwean media seems to indicate that fire sparked by candles wouldn’t be hot enough to burn elements that turn blue, such as copper. A fire caused by diesel or petrol would. Supporting this theory is that when policemen tried to douse the flames with water, it became more ferocious; diesel or petrol fires are best extinguished with sand or carbon powder.
Although the inquest has 22 witnesses still to examine, the circumstantial evidence is so far suggesting the general was assassinated.
But this only raises an even more serious question: Who killed him? There are a few conspiracy theories doing the rounds at the moment. By far the most popular suggests he was eliminated by a rival faction of Zanu-PF seeking to ensure Mujuru’s faction, headed by himself and his wife Joyce, Zimbabwe’s vice-president, are too weak to succeed Mugabe when he eventually goes. The main rival faction is headed by defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, includes much of the state security apparatus and is known as being particularly hard-line. But recent reports indicate another hard-line faction headed by Zimbabwe defence force commander Constantine Chiwenga may be implicated. One over-excited and unsubstantiated claim described Chiwenga as running a “hit squad within Zanu-PF and the army which is seeking to assassinate anyone that he views as an obstacle”.
The other main conspiracy is – rather surprisingly for Zimbabwe – unrelated to politics. General Mujuru had apparently been dabbling in diamond trading. He was somehow involved in Zimbabwe’s notorious Marange diamond field, run by an unholy alliance of criminal gangs, venal politicians and corrupt army bosses. Maybe he crossed the wrong person, or sold someone else’s diamonds, and paid the price.
But even more interesting than the conspiracy theories is the speculation about what might happen in Zimbabwean politics if the inquest finds that Mujuru was murdered. If one or the other Zanu faction was responsible, it could force the Mujuru faction, which still wields considerable clout, to split from Zanu proper. Joyce Mujuru can hardly be expected to remain on the same team as the men who killed her husband. And, as Zanu’s moderate wing with a fair amount in common with the opposition MDC, it wouldn’t be out of the realms of possibility for Mujuru to ally instead with the MDC, posing an almost unstoppable electoral threat.
But, given the proliferation of testimonies heard by the inquest and their often-contradictory nature, and the high political stakes involved, chances are the inquest will be unable to return any kind of conclusive verdict. This mystery might just be too explosive to solve. DM
Photo: A Zimbabwean policeman walks past the burnt out home of retired army general Solomon Mujuru in Beatrice Farm, an area about 65 km south of the capital Harare, August 16, 2011. Mujuru, 67, a key figure in internal battles over President Robert Mugabe’s succession in his ZANU-PF party, died in a fire at his farmhouse, official sources said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo.
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