HARARE, Aug 16 – The leader of President Robert Mugabe’s military forces in Zimbabwe’s independence war, ex-defence chief Solomon Mujuru, burnt to death at his home overnight, officials said on Tuesday.
It was unclear what caused the blaze at the farmhouse of the 62-year-old retired general, husband of Vice President Joyce Mujuru and the country’s most decorated military officer, a party official said.
“There was a fire at his house and he died as result of that but we do not know the cause of that fire,” ZANU-PF official Simon Khaya Moyo told AFP.
Mujuru was burnt beyond recognition, Security Minister Sidney Sekeramayi said.
Police were investigating, including if the fire was an accident or started deliberately.
Joyce Mujuru was at the house in Beatrice, 75 kilometres south of the capital Harare, when officials visited early on Tuesday to express their condolences, state television reported.
Sekeramayi said that when he arrived at the house, “I still thought he might have been badly burnt.”
“It was difficult to reconcile that he actually died, burnt beyond recognition,” said a tearful Sekeramayi in an announcement on state television. “One of Zimbabwe greatest sons is gone,” he said.
The farm was one of about 3,000 seized from their white owners in Mugabe’s controversial land reform programme.
Solomon Mujuru retired from service in 1995 but remained one of the most respected figures in Zimbabwe’s political and military circles, and seen as the force behind his wife who was appointed vice president in 2004.
He led Mugabe’s forces from training camps in Mozambique in the 1970s guerrilla war against Ian Smith’s white-minority regime, serving as commander-in-chief of the Zimbabwe National Liberation Army.
At independence in 1980, Mujuru was appointed the first commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, combining the armies of former liberation movements and of Smith’s Rhodesia. He was appointed full general in 1992.
He also had business interests in key sectors of the economy, including diamond mining.
“He was one of the luminaries of our struggle for independence. It’s devastating blow to the nation,” said Nelson Chamisa, spokesman for Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change which has a fraught relationship with Mugabe’s ZANU-PF.
His death would be a blow to Mugabe and his ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front), said University of Zimbabwe political scientist John Makumbe.
Mugabe “used to rely on him on what to do and what not to do. The nation has lost a pillar and there is likely to be more fragmentation in ZANU-PF,” he said.
The Mujuru couple was among a host of Zimbabwean politicians, including Mugabe, under US sanctions because of alleged human rights abuses by the government.
Mugabe travelled to Angola Tuesday for a southern African summit.