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Mugabe versus Solomon Mujuru (Part II)

Professor Arthur Mutambara (left) and the late Retired General Solomon Mujuru

BELOW is a book excerpt from In Search of the Elusive Zimbabwean Dream, Volume III (Ideas & Solutions) by Professor Arthur Mutambara.

Mugabe feels, rightly so, that Simba Makoni’s Mavambo project took away votes from him through the bhora musango (sabotage the play) phenomenon — where Zanu PF supporters voted for their party’s candidate for parliament, but voted for Makoni for the presidency.

Furthermore, it is Mugabe’s considered view that Simba is just a pawn.

The prime mover is Solomon Mujuru — a man who had been his bosom partner in constructing a Zezuru hegemony in Zimbabwe for over 26 years, and a man who was his conniving partner in the treacherous and divisive Zanu politics in Mozambique.

Mugabe’s sense of betrayal is total.

That is the short background and history of Mugabe’s growing disdain towards Mujuru.

Of course, nothing happens to Solomon Mujuru from March 2008 until his death in a mysterious fire on August 15, 2011.

Had Mugabe forgiven him?

This is hard to believe.

Was Mugabe waiting for a strategic opportunity — a Machiavellian moment — to strike during the stability of the GNU (government of national unity)? This is an open question. However, an affirmative response seems to make sense.

Another curious aspect of Mugabe’s decidedly negative attitude and unbridled antipathy towards Mujuru is that long after he is dead, at rallies and public platforms, he continues to lambast the general — a distinguished freedom fighter whom he has accorded national hero status.


It is clear from some of the public utterances that he has never gotten over Mujuru’s attempts to elbow him out. He has not forgiven the dead man.

For example, at a rally in 2015 (four years after Mujuru’s death), Mugabe says: “Mujuru was a nasty and useless fellow — a very unpleasant man, indeed. He was now saying: ‘Our problems in the party are being caused by one man — Robert Mugabe. He must go!’

“How could he say that? How can I — just one man — create all the challenges? For sure, Solomon Mujuru was now an undesirable character — an impediment in our party.”

Clearly, Mugabe never forgives Mujuru for the simmering treachery and disloyalty, which started in earnest in 2006 at the Goromonzi Conference. Although Mujuru retains his position in the Zanu PF politburo and Joice Mujuru is vice-president in the GNU, Mujuru is a marked man, and Joice is a lame duck vice-president — an inconvenient irritant.

Mugabe and Mujuru had become mortal enemies.

Mugabe rewarded Emmerson Mnangagwa with the Ministry of Defence in the GNU.

The political General Constantino Chiwenga is retained as Commander of the Defence Forces.

In the GNU, Mnangagwa and Chiwenga are the leading pillars of support for Mugabe’s presidency.

As Miles Tendi puts it: “They work in sync towards the progressive development of a state within the state, a deep state, as a means of protecting Mugabe’s presidency and Zanu PF rule from the political threat posed by the MDC in the power-sharing government.”

(Retired) General Mujuru dies in a fire in the early evening of August 15, 2011, at his Alamein Farm, in clearly suspicious circumstances. A maid and guard at the farm later testify that they heard gunshots two hours before flames were seen at his farmhouse.

Mujuru had left groceries and his cellphone in his car, something he had never done before. The general had taken 40 minutes to drive from the hotel to his farm, a journey of 10 minutes.

The lone policeman on guard at the farm is asleep at the time, and after he wakes, his cellphone has no airtime, and the communication radio is broken.

When the Harare City fire truck arrives, it has no water.

All this does not add up.

Something is amiss.

The day of Mujuru’s death (15 August 2011) is the same day that Wilfred Mhanda launches his autobiography — Dzino: Memories of a Freedom Fighter — by Weaver Press.

Given my affinity for history and respect for the liberation struggle fighters, I could not miss it for anything. However, we are also scheduled to travel to Angola for one of those Sadc discussions involving the GNU and its GPA (global political agreement) starting on Tuesday, August 16, 2011.

Usually, Morgan Tsvangirai and I travel on commercial airlines to these meetings, and Mugabe uses a dedicated Air Zimbabwe plane. This means Tsvangirai and I have to go that Monday evening.

I decide not to do that.

I want to fully attend Wilfred Mhanda’s book launch, and not be rushing to some airport. Hence, I ask Mugabe for a ride on his special plane. He graciously agrees, amusingly saying: “There is always space in my mother’s house.”

The book launch goes well.

Veteran freedom fighter and Zipra intelligence supremo — Dumiso Dabengwa — is the guest of honour. As it turns out, Tsvangirai does show up briefly for the event, but must rush off to catch a flight to Angola.

I do not sleep and finish reading the entire autobiography overnight. I am quite a fast reader.

What a fascinating read!

Unfortunately, that is the evening that Solomon Mujuru dies.

Early morning of the next day, Tuesday, August 16, 2011, without any information of what has transpired, I rush to Munhumutapa Building intending to attend cabinet and then proceed to Angola with Mugabe.

Then suddenly, reports start filtering through our security aides with an unsettling message: “There was a fire last night at Mujuru’s farm, and he has died.”

Nothing is authoritative, but just information being passed around. As the time to attend cabinet — 9am — approaches, fellow cabinet ministers confirm the sad news.

I am shattered.

During this GNU, I have grown fond of Solomon Mujuru. We spend a lot of time together. In fact, during most national public events, I sit next to him, or he sits next to my wife, Jackie.

So many anecdotes from the cunning and humorous man: how he made Mugabe; his interactions with Samora Machel and Julius Nyerere; liberation war escapades; jokes about me marrying above my class (“M-m-ukadzi akanakaso, uye aine hunhu kwahwo, wakamuona kupi? Ha-a-si muleague yako!” (How did you convince such a beautiful and well-groomed woman to marry you? You don’t deserve her!)); Snide remarks about my shoe types (Bhu-utsu dzawakapfeka idzo ndedzepwere (You must put on classy shoes, not that!)).

Now he is gone.

The cabinet meeting is tense, as ministers express condolences to each other as is the African custom.

Everyone is engulfed with trepidation, sorrow and uncertainty.

Except Robert Mugabe.

He is relaxed and cracking jokes with petrified cabinet ministers. As the meeting starts, minister of mines Obert Mpofu raises his hand and says: “Your Excellency, given what has happened, I propose that we cancel cabinet so that we allow colleagues to go to Solomon Mujuru’s farm. Most of us have not had a chance to do so.”

Mugabe is derisively dismissive: “What? Why cancel cabinet? What is wrong with you? The business of the state continues. We will proceed as usual.”

As the cabinet progresses, every time a minister raises a hand to speak, they invariably start by saying: “Your Excellency, I want to start by expressing my condolences on the passing of General Solomon Mujuru ...”

However, the excellent one — the chairperson of cabinet, President Robert Mugabe — shows no interest in those remarks. He shows no remorse, but sheer contempt for the distressed ministers.

In fact, he continues with his relaxed demeanour and joking spree as if nothing dramatic has happened in the country.

Mujuru’s death is a non-event to Mugabe.

We are shocked.

When cabinet is over, since I am travelling to Angola with Mugabe, My two official vehicles join his motorcade towards Harare International Airport. Before we get to the airport, the convoy makes a detour to One Commando Barracks, where they have brought Solomon Mujuru’s body.

We are taken to a room where we console a bereaving vice-president Joice Mujuru — Solomon’s widow — her children and close relatives.

Other key Zanu PF and military leaders are there: Sydney Sekeramayi (Minister of State Security), Tendai Savanhu (Mbare MP and top Zanu PF politburo member), Perrance Shiri (Air Force Commander), Paradzai Zimondi (Prisons Commissioner-General) and Constantino Chiwenga (ZDF commander).

Emmerson Mnangagwa — Minister of Defence — is … away in Luanda when Mujuru is killed.

Then suddenly, we are all summoned by minister Sekeramayi and General Constantino Chiwenga to come and view the body. Among all these people, I am the only one from outside Zanu PF circles.

My joining Mugabe’s plane to Angola has led to this unusual circumstance.

My mind races with trepidation as we approach the room with Solomon Mujuru’s body. We enter the dreadful room.

There it is — the corpse is lying on a table and is covered by a plain cloth. Sekeramayi opens the fabric, and what do we see?

A burnt-out skeleton with no flesh!

We are all in shock.

Mugabe quickly says: “Vharai, vharai! (Cover up the corpse, cover it up!)” and leads all of us out of that dreadful room. He looks unsettled and irritated, but not remorseful or shocked.

After that scene, the body is never shown to anyone until it is buried. As it turns out, I am the only one outside Zanu PF circles who sees these unsightly remains of General Solomon Mujuru.

What is clearly inexplicable is how a victim of an ordinary fire could end up as a skeleton.

The human body is at least 60% water. When someone dies in a fire, the body’s swollen water-filled flesh will be there.

The state of Mujuru’s remains is only possible if the body had been in a raging fire for over six hours or was burnt with an accelerant. The latter is more plausible.

There is talk of a blue flame that was found emanating from the charring body. All these observations put paid to the allegation of an ordinary fire accident caused by a candle!

Something stinks to high heaven.

There is another interesting fine point.

Just before Solomon’s death, Joice Mujuru was meant to travel out of the country. For an unexplained rationale, Mugabe stops her from leaving the country. At the One Commando gathering where we view the body, he nonchalantly and casually remarks about how it was going to look for her husband to die like this in her absence.

It is as if Mugabe knew that Mujuru was going to die.

It is puzzling.

Something is not adding up.

Furthermore, while Joice Mujuru is still in shock of the gruesome and untimely death of her husband, Mugabe asks her to act as the President of the country while he and I proceed to Angola for the Sadc summit.

Is he just being insensitive, or is it a crass statement to absolve himself from Solomon’s death?

“If I can leave you as Acting President of the country, surely I have nothing to do with the death of your husband. Do not make unnecessary noises about Solomon’s demise. Your political future is secured. You can be the next President of Zimbabwe.”

Is that Mugabe’s Machiavellian message to a naive, unsophisticated and gullible Joice Mujuru?

Of course, with the death of Solomon Mujuru, Joice’s career in Zanu PF is finished. She just does not know it yet.

Poor woman.

This is August 2011, and she will only come to terms with her obvious and inevitable fate in December 2014 — a good three years later!

Mugabe and I proceed to Harare International Airport and board his special plane to Angola. I am sitting next to him all the way to Luanda.

I am still shaken about Mujuru’s fate.

Not him. He is relaxed and chatty.

I try to probe him about what could have happened. He is unequivocal: “Ah, it was just an accident, a candle maybe. Solomon drank too much. People make mistakes and perish. That is life. We must move on.

“This is not the first time Mujuru has accidentally caused a fire. He almost burnt down our hotel at the Geneva Conference in 1976 through a carelessly disposed cigarette. Mujuru was a reckless chap. Life goes on.”

I am startled by the casual way he is dealing with this tragedy.

Later, in Luanda, I try to bring up the subject of Mujuru’s death. I inquisitively probe Mugabe: “What is the latest information on General Mujuru’s demise? Is there going to be a thorough investigation?”

Again, Mugabe is unfazed: “There is nothing there. It was a fire accident — maybe a candle carelessly left unattended. We cannot keep those bones for long. We have to bury him very quickly. There is no need for any elaborate enquiry. What for?”

It is said that Joice Mujuru had a sense that her husband had been murdered. If indeed Solomon Mujuru was taken out, the information about it would have filtered to her, given her seniority and history in the party, coupled with the extent of her husband’s influence in the security establishment and the securocratic state.

Why did she play along with the murderers of her husband and not voice her concerns immediately when the death occurred in August 2011?

She only makes ineffective noises alleging murder most foul after she has been off-loaded from Zanu PF in December 2014.

It is too little, too late.

No one believes her now at this late stage. She should have spoken out in August 2011, albeit cautiously, but assertively.

She was naive and completely without common sense. She was hoping that despite everything, if she keeps quiet, she could still succeed Robert Mugabe.

How could she believe that schemers and plotters would kill her husband and after that, hand over the presidency of Zanu PF and the country to her?

How daft can she get?

Of course, whoever assassinated Solomon Mujuru would not countenance a Joice Mujuru presidency. What if, during that presidency, she moves to punish the killers?

Even if she would not act, what of her children? Why would they not take advantage of her presidency to seek justice for their father’s death?

It was complete madness and thoughtlessness for her to acquiesce and cavort with a system that she knew eliminated her husband, in the misguided hope of succeeding Mugabe.

Once Solomon Mujuru is killed, that is the end of Joice Mujuru’s hitherto plausible presidential ambitions.

It is obvious.

The die is cast.

It is an open-and-shut case.

Furthermore, all along Joice Mujuru fails to realise that her prominence and assumed power are Solomon Mujuru’s. There are not hers.

She is just a place filler.

An agent and not a principal.

Mugabe does not have any semblance of intrinsic respect for her as a political gladiator, a leader or a government functionary. He views her as a political novice who is both intellectually inept and technically incompetent.

Mugabe expresses to me, on several occasions, his blistering disdain and contempt for Joice.

“She is just an unimaginative simpleton. There is nothing there.” He often retorted.

Mugabe is simply using her to placate his long-term partner — Solomon Mujuru — and once he is eliminated, she ceases to be relevant.

She has to be discarded.

  • Professor Mutambara is the director and full professor of the Institute for the Future of Knowledge at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa.

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