Africa

Mystery Zim car-crash deaths haunt Zanu-PF

Wongai Zhangazha

Questions are being raised over whether the deaths of a number of Zimbabwe politicians in car crashes were all accidental.

Death protest: Zimbabwean politicians Herbert Chitepo, Josiah Tongogara and Border Gezi all died in suspicious vehicle accidents. (AFP)

The death of outspoken Zanu-PF MP Edward Chindori-Chininga has reignited debate over the mysterious deaths of Zimbabwean politicians that have haunted the ruling Zanu-PF party since its days in exile.

Chindori-Chininga, who died in a car crash last week, was declared a liberation war hero by his party. But many Zimbabweans believe he is the latest victim of internal purges that have claimed the lives of generals, Cabinet ministers and other senior politicians in pre- and post-independence Zimbabwe.

Chindori-Chininga was the vocal chairperson of a parliamentary committee that had just released a highly critical report on Zimbabwe's diamond industry. News reports pointed out that his car, which veered off the road into a tree, had left no skid marks.

The mystery deaths have generally occurred at times when Zanu-PF has been torn by factional conflict.

Chindori-Chininga's death evokes memories of the baffling deaths of other liberation war icons, including Zanu chairperson Herbert Chitepo, Zanla commander Josiah Tongogara, Zipra commander Alfred Nikita Mangena, Zapu second vice-president Jason Ziyaphapha Moyo, Zanu-PF rising star Zororo Duri and Brigadier General Paul Gunda.

Since independence, rumour and speculation have swirled around the "accidental" deaths of former defence minister Moven Mahachi, former industry and commerce minister Chris Ushewokunze, army captain Edwin Nleya, former Zanu-PF political commissars Border Gezi and Elliot Manyika and retired army general and Zanu-PF heavyweight Solomon Majuru.

Controversial
Among the most controversial deaths are those of:

  • Hebert Chitepo, who was killed in March 1975 by a car bomb in Lusaka. Several investigations have been hampered by lack of evidence, and theories about the motive and perpetrator abound. Former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda instituted an inquiry which made damning findings about infighting in Zanu-PF in exile. The inquiry also fingered Josiah Tongogara, the commander of Zanu's guerrilla army.
     
  • Tongogara himself was killed in a car crash in Mozambique in 1979 while on his way to Zimbabwe, six days after the Lancaster House agreement was concluded. His vehicle rammed an army truck parked on the side of the road. The charismatic Zanla commander had clashed with Mugabe over the need for a government of national unity with Joshua Nkomo and speculation was also highlighted by his “ambition, popularity and decisive style".

This year it was reported that his wife, Angeline Tongogara, had demanded to be driven to the scene of her husband's fatal accident, saying she felt bitter about the way Mugabe and Zanu-PF had handled the death. The party released a statement by an undertaker that Tongagara's injuries were consistent with a car accident, but no autopsy results have ever been released.

  • Chris Ushewokunze, a former ministry of industry and commerce, died at the age of 49 after a mysterious car accident at Suri Suri, about 110km from Bulawayo, on the road to Harare, in 1994. He had differed with Mugabe on economic policy.
     
  • Zororo Duri was rising rapidly through Zanu-PF ranks as one of the young technocrats seen as poised to take over the party in the mid-1990s. Party bosses had told him not to contest the chair of Manicaland province against Kumbirai Kangai, but he went ahead and won. Appointed ambassador to Cuba, he was killed in a car accident on the Mutare-Harare road in 1996.
     
  • Moven Mahachi was minister of defence at the time of his death in a car accident in 2001 on the Mutare-Nyanga road after attending a Zanu-PF Manicaland meeting as national political commissar. In 2009 Enos Nkala, one of Zanu's founders, claimed that Mahachi was eliminated because of his robust opposition to Zanu-PF's looting of diamonds in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
     
  • Paul Armstrong Gunda, a brigadier general and hero of the liberation war, died after his car allegedly collided with a train on the Harare-Marondera road in 2007. 

Before his death, regarded as suspicious by many Zimbabweans, there were persistent allegations that the 1 Brigade commander was among the military officers involved in a failed plot to topple Mugabe. 

Tatenda Gunda, his widow, published advertisements insinuating that he had died in suspicious circumstances. In an interview this week she said the damage to the car was not serious enough to have been caused by a train and Gunda had had a mysterious back injury. 

No foul play
A board of inquiry set up under the defence force's disciplinary regulations found no foul play. 

  • Eliot Manyika, former youth minister, died in a road accident on the Zvishavane-Mbalabala road in 2008. In his capacity as national commissar he was travelling from Mutare to Gwanda on a Zanu-PF restructuring mission that could have upset the leadership ambitions of some top party officials. 

    Manyika's family asked police to investigate, claiming that his injuries were inconsistent with a road accident. A close relative also claimed that he had received anonymous death threats. A tyre from his official Mercedes-Benz was sent to South Africa for forensic analysis, but the inquest found his death was consistent with a traffic accident.
     
  • Border Gezi was killed when his car careered out of control after it had a blow-out on the Harare-Masvingo road. Gezi was travelling to Masvingo to address party supporters and reshuffle the political leadership in the province. Some theorists hold that he had decided to speak out against the seizure of white-owned farms. It is also believed that the Zanu-PF old guard was unhappy with his meteoric rise through the party's ranks. 
     
  • Solomon Mujuru  died, allegedly in a fire, at his farm in Beatrice in 2011. Many politically neutral Zimbabweans, and even some Zanu-PF supporters, believe Mujuru was murdered, and the speculation became so intense that his widow, Vice-President Joice Mujuru, had to appeal for calm. His family's request to have his remains exhumed and re-examined in a second postmortem by a South African pathologist were turned down. In his report,  the director of Zimbabwe's forensic science laboratory, Birthwell Mutandiro, said there were indications that Mujuru had died before the fire spread to the room in which his remains were found.  

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