There is a story of a candle that caused a conflagration which incinerated a celebrated war hero in a house that could well have been fire-proof. It is a story full of intrigue. It is a story that over the past week has been told in hushed tones; a story that delves into the macabre details of Zimbabwe’s political machinations. It is the story of Solomon Mujuru’s death.
Retired Zimbabwean army general Solomon Mujuru, a renowned power broker, died in a firestorm in a farmhouse which according to its previous owner Guy Watson-Smith was a “sprawling single-storey building, roofed entirely with asbestos sheeting” which would have made it “absolutely fire-proof” (http://www.timeslive.co.za/africa/2011/08/21/mujuru-death-no-accident). Furthermore, we have been told by Watson-Smith that “the walls were brick and cement. All that could have burnt was roofing timbers and ceilings. To imagine the fire spreading quickly without help is hard to do”.
Any structural engineer worth his salt will tell you that brick and cement walls are rated as having high thermal properties. He or she will also be quick to point out that despite its negative health and environmental side effects, asbestos is a highly prized building material because of its resistance to fire, heat, electrical and chemical damage. So under the circumstances, to surmise that a mere candle could have caused a conflagration in a house built to withstand the most fierce of blazes, appears to be an exercise in stretching the truth to its most unimaginable lengths.
Then of course, there is the little matter of the bedroom windows, four of them in total and all of them without burglars, through which the General could have escaped with ease. One had to be drugged or already dead not to escape from the seething firestorm.
Given all of this, are the cries among his followers of “murder most foul” justified? There are several reasons why some are speculating that the general was taken out. Rarely are businessmen taken out by their rivals. Mujuru was a wealthy businessman who over the years had amassed immense wealth in the mining and security sectors plus a portfolio of shares in various blue chip companies. In a country where the traditional mafia have failed to penetrate due to the existence of local stalwarts who are fierce Mafiosos in their own right, a hit motivated by business interests seems unlikely but cannot altogether be ruled out. The political reasons, however, are enough to send a chill up one’s spine.
As a kingmaker, Mujuru was a man to be feared both in the flesh and in absentia. For years he was the power behind Mugabe who owes his rise 31-year rule to the power broking capabilities of Mujuru. However, there came a time when the battle-hardened general grew disenchanted with Bob, threw his energies instead into a plethora of business interests, masterminded the ascension of his wife to the vice-presidency, and some say, began strategising the ouster of a dictator behind the scenes.
In 2007, the General was believed to be the convener of a series of meetings with other senior military commanders and some political leaders whose intention was to force Mugabe to the polls in 2008 and have him replaced as president. According to reports at the time, (http://www.thezimbabwean.co.uk/news/11182/mujuru-under-house-arrest.html) the general was placed under surveillance “after the CIO handed over a dossier to the fraud squad accusing him of numerous cases of corruption in his vast business empire”. The reports go on to state that during this time, the general was called in for questioning by the police and threatened with arrest over the corruption allegations. Most people believe that all of this was meant to intimidate Mujuru in the wake of speculation that he would be backing Simba Makoni in the March 2008 presidential election.
Solomon Mujuru died in the early hours of August 16 2011 in a firestorm that engulfed a sturdy and for the most part, fire-resistant farmhouse. A throng of more than 25 000 people attended his funeral at Heroes Acre on Saturday, August 20. He was a kingpin among Zimbabwe’s coterie of military strong men, often referred to as “securocrats” for their role in underwriting Mugabe’s tenure of dictatorship by guaranteeing the support of the military. That such a powerful man should die in a random fire accident begs the question as to whether we have overstated the power of the securocrats in Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, Mugabe continues to outsmart and outlive his “friends” and enemies alike much to the detriment I am afraid of those who underestimate him.