POLICE are probing the death of Zanu PF national commissar, Elliot Manyika after family members queried circumstances surrounding the accident that claimed his life two years ago, the Zimbabwe Independent has learnt.
Family members who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation said police were requested to investigate the matter after the family members said the injuries the former Minister Without Portfolio sustained were not consistent with a road accident and the damages to his car.
Police sources confirmed that an investigation was opened soon after Manyika’s death in a road accident on the 145km peg along the Zvishavane-Mbalabala Road on December 6, 2008. He was travelling from Mutare to Gwanda on a Zanu PF restructuring mission that, if completed, could have upset some top party officials’ leadership ambitions.
The results of the investigation will determine if an inquest into the death should be launched.
A close family relative said the family long suspected that “a lot was not adding up in the accident hence the idea to have a more detailed investigation”.
The relative also said just before his death Manyika had received threats on his life from anonymous people.
“We had a lot of questions that we wanted answered after the accident,” one family member told the Independent this week. “Some of the information we received was just not tallying. We were not pointing a finger at anyone but just wanted some answers.”
The family member further alleged that villagers in the community where the accident occurred had raised questions about the conduct of the person who collected Manyika’s body from the scene of the accident.
“The villagers said that someone who claimed to be a doctor arrived at the scene of the accident and they told the doctor that there was a nearby hospital which was 45 km away. But he insisted on taking Manyika to Bulawayo. It just raised questions,” said the family member.
The former minister’s son, Ronald Manyika, referred questions to the police while Manyika’s brother, Enos Manyika, referred questions to Zanu PF.
Ronald said: “Ask the police about the progress. They are the ones who would know. Ask them to tell you at what stage the investigations are because they are the ones who can help you. I cannot say anything more than this.”
Efforts to get comment from Manyika’s wife Madeline were fruitless.
Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said the probe was normal procedure.
“It is a normal procedure to conduct an investigation when an accident or sudden death has occurred and this does not need the approval of a family or relatives,” said Bvudzijena. “Investigations are done irrespective of the status of the person. It is normal that after a sudden death of a person an investigation follows whose findings will be submitted to the magistrate’s court where a magistrate will make a decision based on the findings.”
The family member who spoke to the Independent said the family was initially divided on whether to pursue investigations, but later approached several influential Zanu PF officials, some of whom were also opposed to the idea. Eventually, they approached a service chief who told them that an investigation would take up to three years.
At the time of his death, Manyika was spearheading a restructuring exercise which was seen targeting the party’s divisive succession issue.
A police source said although it was normal for police to investigate sudden-death cases, the family insisted that they were suspicious of the circumstances.
“If someone dies in a car accident or sudden death, then a sudden-death docket is compiled which, after investigations is submitted to a magistrate who will determine the cause of the death,” said a police source.
“However, during the course of the investigations, the family raised issues that Manyika’s accident was more than just an accident. They suspected that injuries the politician sustained during the accident were not consistent with a road traffic accident.”
“In addition to that the family initially could not locate Manyika’s cell phone and some of his clothes he had at the time of the accident. However, they were later handed over to them by the police,” said the source.
As part of the investigations, a tyre of the late politician’s official Mercedes Benz car was sent to South Africa for forensic examination.
The police source said the docket on the investigations was yet to be presented to a magistrate for determination as required by law though investigations were almost complete.
At the time of his death, there were accusations that Manyika’s commissariat department had failed to mobilise support for Zanu PF, resulting in the party losing its majority in parliament for the first time since Independence in the March 2008 general polls.
His restructuring was also seen as targeting a faction with ambitions to succeed President Robert Mugabe when the 86-year-old eventually leaves the scene.
The MDC, then an opposition party, on the other hand accused Manyika of leading Zanu PF’s terror campaign.
Enos revealed at the burial of the former minister at the National Heroes Acre that the family had a premonition of his death.
“He was warned not to go,” he said. “He was told he would die if he went to Gwanda but he refused and maintained that he had a job to do there. Many people had warned him that if he went to Gwanda he would not come back alive but he would not listen,” he said, without elaborating why and how they had foretold his death.
Manyika was not the first Zanu PF political commissar to die in a car crash in recent years.
Border Gezi died in a car accident in April 2001 near Fairfield, about 120 kilometres from Masvingo. He was travelling to Masvingo to address party supporters and reshuffle the political leadership in the province.
His successor in the portfolio, Moven Mahachi was killed in an accident near Juliasdale, Nyanga a month later while driving in an all-terrain Land Rover Discovery.
Fears that managed road accidents have been used in the past to eliminate political rivals were reinforced when a widow of a top army general questioned official information that her husband had died from a car accident.
Widow of the late national hero Brigadier General Armstrong Paul Gunda, Tatenda, last year sponsored several advertisements in the media insinuating that Gunda died in suspicious circumstances.
Gunda died in June 2007 when the car he travelling in was said to have been involved in an accident with a train off the Harare-Marondera Road near Watershed College.
A board of inquiry set up to investigate the circumstances surrounding his death — in terms of the Defence Forces Disciplinary Regulations of 2003– established that there was no foul play.
However, in her advertisements, Gunda’s wife insisted that the board of inquiry misled the public.
The Zimbabwe National Army had to issue a statement expressing concern over the “unwarranted accusations” over the circumstances of Gunda’s death.