FIVE years have passed since the tragic and mysterious death of former army commander General Solomon Mujuru, but his recurrent demonisation by President Robert Mugabe has cast the spotlight on the veteran leader, exposing a deep-seated animosity and a vindictive side that is unforgiving of those who clash with him even if they facilitated his rise to power.
By Herbert Moyo
On Monday (the fifth anniversary of Mujuru’s death), the captive state-controlled media chose to portray the joint MDC-T and ZimPF party protest in Gweru against government’s failure to address the country’s deepening socio-economic crisis as the culmination of “a project that started before the death of Mujuru.” MDC-T is led by veteran opposition politician Morgan Tsvangirai, while ZimPF is led by former vice-president Joice Mujuru who was married to the general.
“The Herald has it on good authority that the late general had several meetings with the MDC-T leader and agreed on a scheme of taking over and a power-sharing formula that would incorporate the general’s interests. It is understood that the project had the backing of Western countries who felt that MDC-T needed someone with liberation war credentials to enhance its power bid against President Mugabe,” wrote the paper.
In this, the state media was picking up on a theme which Mugabe often harps on at public functions in the process allowing bitterness to cloud his judgement and even conveniently forgetting the instrumental role Mujuru played in his elevation to the leadership of Zanu and thereafter rise to power in independent Zimbabwe in 1980.
The general’s crime is that by 2006, he had turned into a fierce internal opponent of Mugabe’s plans to unconstitutionally extend his rule to 2010 without elections. Ahead of the 2008 elections, Mujuru spearheaded campaigns within Zanu PF for Mugabe’s removal and leadership renewal.
However, he was not always an avowed opponent as history has recorded that when Mugabe and Edgar Tekere first arrived in Mozambique in 1975, Mujuru and his wife Joice were among the combatants who helped them settle in amid serious resistance from senior Zanla High command figures led by the late Wilfred Mhanda.
Two years ago, Chrispen Mataire, a senior veteran of the liberation struggle who was part of Wilfred Mhanda’s group that was barricaded in dungeons until independence for opposing Mugabe, wrote in the Zimbabwe Independent that by 1975 Mujuru was already third in command at Chibavava-Toronga camp where Mugabe and other officials were first introduced to the troops.
When Mugabe and Tekere arrived in Mozambique, they were initially quarantined because Zanla commanders and the late Mozambican president Samora Machel were suspicious of them. Samora wanted senior Zanla commanders to take over the leadership of the struggle like he did with Frelimo.
Mujuru made several interventions including in 1977 to save Mugabe against the so-called Vashandi Rebellion led by Mhanda. Many years later, a still bitter Mhanda stated in his book, Dzino: Memories of a Freedom Fighter, that General Mujuru “sold out” comrades so that Mugabe could take over.
“Without that historical ‘sell out’ in Beira, Mozambique, in January 1977, Mugabe and the old nationalist guard might have been relegated to the dustbin of history in favour of Machingura and his Zimbabwe People’s Army (Zipa) ‘revolutionaries’, hardly three years before Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980,” reads part of the book.
It was also General Mujuru’s intervention again in 1978 that saved the day not only for Mugabe and the old nationalist guard, but also for Zanla commander Josiah Tongogara. This was during the purported “coup” attempt led by Joseph Taderera which subsequently implicated the former Dare ReChimurenga members, namely Rugare Gumbo, Henry Hamadziripi and Kumbirai Kangai.
The seemingly grateful Mugabe rewarded General Mujuru by making him army commander, while his wife became a cabinet minister despite being barely literate — something she rectified by pursuing studies culminating in the doctorate from the University of Zimbabwe in 2014.
Joice was even controversially elevated to the vice-presidency at the expense of the then Zanu PF secretary for administration Emmerson Mnangagwa in 2004 amid clear signals from Mugabe that she would not stop at that position.
However, things changed in 2006 when Mujuru blocked Mugabe’s attempt to extend his stay in power by two years from 2008 to 2010 without elections at the Zanu PF annual conference in Goromonzi.
Mugabe had also been angered by academic Ibbo Mandaza’s decision to publish the memoirs of ex-Zanu PF secretary-general, the late Edgar Tekere which cast aspersions on his liberation war credentials. He blamed Mujuru for the publication and subsequently gave an interview to the state broadcaster ZBC during which he used the phrase “vairasa” (they miscalculated) in reference to the Mujuru faction.
Things got worse when Mujuru, with the support of former Home Affairs minister Dumiso Dabengwa and ex-Finance minister Simba Makoni, forced Mugabe to convene an extra-ordinary congress in December 2007 over his candidacy in the 2008 election.
Having failed to block Mugabe as their candidate for the 2008 election, Mujuru and his faction resorted to the “Bhora Musango” (sabotage) tactic, resulting in his defeat by Tsvangirai in the first round of the presidential election.
The election had to go to a run-off in June that year, but Tsvangirai pulled out citing political violence and killings. Although the Mujuru faction swept through nine out of 10 provinces in the Zanu PF congress in 2009, relations with Mugabe had already soured and further deteriorated.
Mujuru was to die in a mysterious fire at his Beatrice farm in 2011.
An inquest into the general’s death concluded in 2012 that he died in an inferno and there was no foul play, but the family rejected that as a cover-up. In January, Joice said her husband was shot dead before he was burnt to ashes with an accelerant which produced a bluish flame — murder most foul.
Political scientist Ibbo Mandaza said: “It is rather interesting that on the anniversary of his death such a story is written. People are going to speculate and I think it is in bad taste given the context of the enduring suspicion about who killed him.”
And as also observed by ZimPF party spokesperson Jealousy Mawarire, the vilification of Mujuru could lend credence to speculation that he was killed because he was seen as an “internal enemy within Zanu PF for opposing Mugabe’s ambitions to cling to power.”