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Thursday
Aug182011

Suspicions Arise in Fiery Death of Zimbabwe Kingmaker

George Doyle/Thinkstock(HARARE, Zimbabwe) -- Zimbabwe’s political landscape fell further into turmoil after the death of influential retired army general Solomon Mujuru earlier in the week.

Retired General Mujuru died in a fire at his farm on the outskirts of the capital city of Harare on Tuesday. Mujuru was the husband of Vice-President Joice Mujuru, and a part of the country's main party's leadership committee, the Politburo.

Mujuru and his wife were a part of a faction within the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party that was jostling to succeed the 87-year-old President Robert Mugabe. The other faction is led by Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Officials say the 67-year-old Mujuru was "burned beyond recognition" on the commercial farm in Beatrice which he seized from white farmer Guy Watson-Smith in 2001 during Zimbabwe's infamous land grabs. Mujuru was wealthy and is said to have owned several commercial farms as well as many business ventures.

Reports say the married general's body was discovered near a door, showing that he apparently tried to escape the inferno but was overcome and died together with his girlfriend. He was separated from his wife who was at their home in Chisipite at the time of the fire. Suspicions have been raised about Mujuru's death in a country poised for contentious elections in the coming months. On Wednesday Vice-President Mujuru called for calm after ZANU-PF youths marched in the city streets demanding answers about her husband's death.

Mujuru's nom de guerre was Rex Nhongo when he fought in Zimbabwe's liberation struggle in the 1970's. He lead guerilla forces and was dubbed "the Kingmaker" after convincing his troops to accept  Mugabe as their leader when the future president crossed over into Mozambique after 10 years behind bars in then Rhodesia. Mujuru served as General of the Army after independence in 1980 until retiring in 1995. Mujuru, however, was said to have recently lost favor with the President.

Tensions have escalated between the two factions within ZANU-PF, which signed a power sharing deal with opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), in 2008. Mujuru's faction was considered more moderate and likely to work with MDC.

Forensic experts are investigating the fire which initial reports say was caused by a faulty electrical system. A funeral parade was held on Thursday at army barracks near the capital for the general who was declared a national hero and will be buried at the National Heroes' Acre in Harare on Saturday.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio