The three-week-long inquest into the death of Zimbabwe’s most decorated and richest soldier, General Solomon Mujuru, which ended on Monday, was supposed to replace nearly six months of rumours and speculation that he had been killed by political rivals in Zanu-PF. It was supposed to give facts about who was responsible for his death.
But the inquest into the mysterious farmhouse blaze that left Mujuru “burnt beyond recognition” in August last year has now fanned even more speculation and conspiracy theories.
Held at the Harare Magistrate’s Court, it has left Zimbabweans with unanswered questions about the cause of the fire, the sound of gunshots heard by police guards and a “strange” blue flame seen on Mujuru’s body.
In an indication of the middle-of-the-road approach adopted by Mujuru’s allies, Joel Mujuru, the late general’s older brother, told the Mail & Guardian this week: “To some extent I will say I am satisfied by the way the inquest ended, and to some extent I am not happy.”
Political analyst Dumisani Nkomo said the statement from the brother reflected the decision of Mujuru’s allies to be cautious and avoid making sensational comments.
Contradictory evidence given by the 39 state witnesses, among them South African pathologists and forensic experts, added to the suspicion at each turn of the inquest.
It left the late general’s allies, who usually sat in the front pews of the court, in tears, shock and confusion.
But political observers now expect very little headway to be made from an impending ruling by Walter Chikwana, the magistrate presiding over the inquest, and have dismissed it as a “smokescreen affair”.
It is to Zanu-PF’s dicey succession race that observers are now turning for clues, because they believe the inconclusiveness and contradictions of the inquest may be used to propel the Mujuru faction in the contest to succeed Robert Mugabe.
Zanu-PF factions divided
For more than a decade, Zanu-PF factions have been divided between the late general’s wife, Deputy President Joice Mujuru, and Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.
“The inquest has helped to project the Mujuru faction as victims and the fact that it has been held cast them as the faction advocating for truth and justice. In the short to medium term, Zimbabweans are likely to sympathise with them as they are seen as the victims,” said Nkomo.
This view is also held by political analyst Charles Mangongera. “Joice Mujuru might even emerge stronger after this. My sense is that the inquest has generated more questions than answers and has shifted the national mood in Mujuru’s favour,” he said.
“The inquest has generated collective sympathy for the family and there is a feeling that the Mujurus are victims of a bigger conspiracy … Joice Mujuru has realised that she is on her own and needs to up her game,” said Mangongera.
On the other hand, the failure by the inquest to bring up any compelling evidence that could point to “murder most foul”, as suspected by the Mujuru faction, is regarded by observers as subtly absolving the Mnangagwa camp in the court of public opinion of any involvement in the general’s death.
Trevor Maisiri, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, said: “Had the inquest pointed to foul play, it would have opened up a can of worms and spelled doom for Zanu-PF at a most critical time, when it needs to be united.”
It is likely that the police will take the fall for Mujuru’s death for “negligence” on their part — their failure to give best-practice VIP protection to the deputy president’s husband. Constable Obert Mark confessed to sleeping on duty, the police revealed that they were ignorant of the layout of the farmhouse and they failed to call for help in time.
It is unlikely that the family will press ahead with the exhumation of Mujuru’s body. A request to do so was turned down this week by Chikwana because it became evident that the “several mistakes” made by state security and medical officials had compromised crucial evidence.