Zimbabwe’s murky politics - One of the country’s grand old gunmen dies in an unexplained fire
Solomon Mujuru and Joyce Mujuru
THERE is no evidence to suggest that the death on August 16th of Solomon Mujuru, one of the most powerful figures in President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF party and a former head of Zimbabwe’s armed forces, was anything but an accident. But the senior party official accompanying his grieving widow, Joice, a Zimbabwean vice-president, around the burnt-out remains of their farmhouse outside Harare, the capital, in which he died, had little doubt as to the real cause of his demise. “This,” he declared, “is murder most foul.” His compatriots—on both sides of the political divide—appear to agree, though nobody is sure who is responsible.
Mr Mujuru’s death is bound to intensify the vicious battle between rival Zanu-PF factions swirling around the succession of the party’s ailing 87-year-old leader. There are fears of further bloodshed, even of a possible coup. Although Mr Mujuru left government service in the 1990s to devote himself to his vast business and farming interests, he continued to wield enormous influence and was the leading light behind his wife’s bid to succeed Mr Mugabe.
Regarded in Zanu-PF circles as a moderate reformist, Mrs Mujuru had recently appeared to gain the edge over her main rival, the ambitious hardline defence minister, Emmerson Mnangagwa. As Mr Mugabe’s state security minister in the early 1980s, he oversaw the Matabeleland massacres, when as many as 20,000 people were killed. He now chairs the supposedly defunct but still powerful Joint Operations Command (JOC), composed of all security chiefs. Many believe that this shadowy body, from which Morgan Tsvangirai, the prime minister and leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, is excluded, really runs the country.
So Mr Mnangagwa could be seen as the likeliest beneficiary of Mr Mujuru’s death. But a further candidate to succeed Mr Mugabe has recently emerged, who might also stand to gain—General Constantine Chiwenga, head of the country’s armed forces and a member of Zanu-PF’s powerful politburo. He is said to have gathered around him a clutch of influential hardliners, including Jonathan Moyo, Mr Mugabe’s self-appointed spin-doctor, Augustin Chihuri, chief of police, Johannes Tomana, the attorney-general, and Brigadier-General Douglas Nyikayaramba, who recently caused a stir by describing Mr Tsvangirai as a “national security threat”.
General Constantine Chiwenga
Where Mr Mugabe himself stands in all this is unclear. He has never named an heir-apparent. Tenderly holding Mrs Mujuru’s hand at One Commando army barracks in Harare, whither her husband’s charred remains had been taken, he paid a glowing tribute to the “great deeds of a departed hero, which earned him profound respect and a special place in the history of Zimbabwe”. But his relations with Mr Mujuru had recently cooled after the former guerrilla leader suggested he was too old to win any more elections and should step down.
Zanu-PF leader, Robert Mugabe arrives in Highfields to address a pre-election rally in 1979. Next to him are much younger, now-retired Army General Solomon Mujuru (centre) and current Minister of Defence Emmerson Mnangagwa (right)