Mujuru inquest: Contradictions, more suspicion

Faith Zaba/Wongai Zhangazha

THE inquest into former army commander General Solomon Mujuru’s death ended this week at the Magistrate’s Court, with sharper contradictions and inconsistencies, deepening suspicions of foul play. Harare magistrate Walter Chikwanha ruled that it was not his responsibility to order Mujuru’s exhumation after a request by Mujuru’s family to have the remains of one of Zimbabwe’s most decorated soldiers re-examined.
The family wanted Mujuru’s remains exhumed to allow South African pathologist Reggie Perumal to carry out a second postmortem.

The inquest into the mysterious death of Mujuru in a fire at his Alamein Farm in Beatrice on August 16 2011 ended on Monday after 39 witnesses testified.
But Zimbabweans are still puzzled as to the cause of the fire which burnt Mujuru to ashes.

Testimonies from the forensic experts, pathologist, Harare Fire Brigade, and the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa) said their findings were inconclusive, while witnesses from the farm offered contradictory testimonies. In addition, there is also the issue of the blue flame, which was not unravelled.

The expert witnesses did nothing but raise more questions into the circumstances under which Mujuru died.

If anything, the inquest has left Zimbabweans and Mujuru’s allies and family crying “murder most foul”.

State of Mujuru’s remains

A postmortem carried out by Dr Gabriel Alvero deduced the cause of death as “carbonation due to open fire, origin unknown.
“The tracheal mucosa was red and black with carbon inside demonstrating that the deceased was alive when the fire started,” he said.

Postmortem findings were:

  • The right arm was complete but left arm was burnt to ashes up to the elbow level
  • Both lower limbs were burnt to ashes up to the knee level
  • The lungs were severely burnt and could not be recognised
  • The large vessels such as the aorta and vena cava were burnt and could not be recognised
  • The teeth were present but fragile and breaking off
  • The esophagus was severely burnt and could not be recognised
  • The stomach was burnt and absent
  • The pancreas was absent
  • The liver and gall bladder were present but severely burnt and charred
  • A portion of the bowel was present but damaged by action of the fire and heat
  • The kidneys were absent
  • The bladder was absent
  • The prostate was absent
  • The spleen was absent
  • No endocrine organ was found
  • Body position vis-a-vis organs burning to ashes

The forensic report by the director of the Forensic Science Laboratory in the Zimbabwe Republic Police Birthwell Mutandiro said indications were that Mujuru died before the fire spread into the room where his remains were retrieved. The body was lying face down on the floor in the north-south position.
“The carpet beneath the body exhibited less fire damage compared to other areas. The indication is that the body prevented the carpet from catching fire,” he said.

According to his report presented in court: “This physical evidence indicates that the body was lying in that position before the fire progressed.”
However, questions have been raised as to how the late general’s internal organs, such as the stomach, bladder, prostate and kidneys were burnt to ashes while the carpet beneath his body where he lay face down was less damaged.

Bungled postmortem

Alvero said he conducted the autopsy without adequate instruments. He said he could not draw blood for examination given the charred state of the body. This prompted the Mujuru family, who sought assistance from South African pathologist Ganas Reggie Perumal, to ask for exhumation and a second postmortem.

Evidence compromised

A South African police forensic analyst, Seonyatseng Jack Maine, said due to the poor packaging of debris collected at the burnt farmhouse evidence might have been compromised therefore affecting results.

Maine who tested several things that include burnt ashes, black solid material and cotton wool with black residue collected from different points in the house for accelerants and inflammables said he could not detect that such material was used.

But he was quick to point out that due to the fact that the debris was compromised he could not rule out accelerants or inflammables. He could also not tell what caused the fire from the evidence he analysed.

Mystery Passenger

There were contradictory statements as to whether Mujuru arrived alone at the farm.

A security guard manning the entrance gate to the farmhouse, Clemence Runhare, told the court that Mujuru was accompanied by someone he assumed, at the time, to be his driver. Runhare said there was a male person in the front passenger seat.

But this was contradicted by police officers at the farm who said Mujuru was alone. They said there was a jacket hanging in the car.
So the question many Zimbabweans are asking is could Runhare have mistaken a jacket for a person? If indeed, he was in the company of a male person, who was that person and what happened to him?

Gunshots

Runhare was the first to tell the court that he heard what sounded like gunshots around midnight on the fateful night.
Rosemary Short, the maid at the farmhouse, concurred saying she also heard what sounded like gunshots coming from the farmhouse while at her house, about two to three kilometers away.

She thought it might have been the police officers who occasionally fired gunshots to scare away intruders or snakes.

Missing Keys

There is also the issue of the missing front door key and car keys which have not been recovered to date. This is in addition to the bunch of keys which Mujuru told the maid he had left in Harare but ended up in the main bedroom where they were retrieved after the fire. Mujuru also parked near the front door whose keys were also missing, which the farm workers found unusual considering that the general had been parking near the kitchen door whose keys he had. What was also unusual was the fact that Mujuru left groceries and his medication in the car, something which Short said “he would never do”. The car door was unlocked.

Arson or not?

At the close of the inquest the cause of the fire could not be established.Use of incendiary devices or accelerants could not be determined.Experts testified but said their findings were inconclusive. This left the family and the public even more confused. Fire brigade expert Clever Mafoti revealed that there were two sources of fire – in the main bedroom and the mini lounge, which he said was in most cases due to arson and rarely as a result of an electrical fault. An electrical fault was ruled out by Zesa expert Douglas Nyakungu, while Mutandiro also said he failed to establish the cause of the fire and could not say whether or not a crime was committed.

Inadequate security

Short also indicated that Mujuru wanted the police officers guarding the farm house withdrawn. She said the police officers were not in the general’s good books.

The pancreas was absent

The liver and gall bladder were present but severely burnt and charred

A portion of the bowel was present but damaged by action of the fire and heat

The kidneys were absent

The bladder was absent

The prostate was absent

The spleen was absent

No endocrine organ was found

Body position vis-a-vis organs burning to ashes

The forensic report by the director of the Forensic Science Laboratory in the Zimbabwe Republic Police Birthwell Mutandiro said indications were that Mujuru died before the fire spread into the room where his remains were retrieved. The body was lying face down on the floor in the north-south position.

“The carpet beneath the body exhibited less fire damage compared to other areas. The indication is that the body prevented the carpet from catching fire,” he said.

According to his report presented in court: “This physical evidence indicates that the body was lying in that position before the fire progressed.”

However, questions have been raised as to how the late general’s internal organs, such as the stomach, bladder, prostate and kidneys were burnt to ashes while the carpet beneath his body where he lay face down was less damaged.

Bungled postmortem

Alvero said he conducted the autopsy without adequate instruments. He said he could not draw blood for examination given the charred state of the body. This prompted the Mujuru family, who sought assistance from South African pathologist Ganas Reggie Perumal, to ask for exhumation and a second postmortem.

Evidence compromised

A South African police forensic analyst, Seonyatseng Jack Maine, said due to the poor packaging of debris collected at the burnt farmhouse evidence might have been compromised therefore affecting results.

Maine who tested several things that include burnt ashes, black solid material and cotton wool with black residue collected from different points in the house for accelerants and inflammables said he could not detect that such material was used.

But he was quick to point out that due to the fact that the debris was compromised he could not rule out accelerants or inflammables. He could also not tell what caused the fire from the evidence he analysed.

Mystery Passenger

There were contradictory statements as to whether Mujuru arrived alone at the farm.

A security guard manning the entrance gate to the farmhouse, Clemence Runhare, told the court that Mujuru was accompanied by someone he assumed, at the time, to be his driver. Runhare said there was a male person in the front passenger seat.

But this was contradicted by police officers at the farm who said Mujuru was alone. They said there was a jacket hanging in the car.

So the question many Zimbabweans are asking is could Runhare have mistaken a jacket for a person? If indeed, he was in the company of a male person, who was that person and what happened to him?

Gunshots

Runhare was the first to tell the court that he heard what sounded like gunshots around midnight on the fateful night.

Rosemary Short, the maid at the farmhouse, concurred saying she also heard what sounded like gunshots coming from the farmhouse while at her house, about two to three kilometers away.

She thought it might have been the police officers who occasionally fired gunshots to scare away intruders or snakes.

Missing Keys

There is also the issue of the missing front door key and car keys which have not been recovered to date. This is in addition to the bunch of keys which Mujuru told the maid he had left in Harare but ended up in the main bedroom where they were retrieved after the fire. Mujuru also parked near the front door whose keys were also missing, which the farm workers found unusual considering that the general had been parking near the kitchen door whose keys he had. What was also unusual was the fact that Mujuru left groceries and his medication in the car, something which Short said “he would never do”. The car door was unlocked.

Arson or not?

At the close of the inquest the cause of the fire could not be established.Use of incendiary devices or accelerants could not be determined.Experts testified but said their findings were inconclusive. This left the family and the public even more confused. Fire brigade expert Clever Mafoti revealed that there were two sources of fire – in the main bedroom and the mini lounge, which he said was in most cases due to arson and rarely as a result of an electrical fault. An electrical fault was ruled out by Zesa expert Douglas Nyakungu, while Mutandiro also said he failed to establish the cause of the fire and could not say whether or not a crime was committed.

Inadequate security

Short also indicated that Mujuru wanted the police officers guarding the farm house withdrawn. She said the police officers were not in the general’s good books.

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