Death of the Kingmaker

By Sarah Logan

Zimbabwe’s Vice President, Joice Mujuru, recently called for a thorough probe to be conducted into a fire that killed her husband, Solomon Mujuru, at his farmhouse in Beatrice, just south of the capital, Harare, on the evening of 15 August 2011. Despite this, little – if any – independent investigation into the matter has taken place. Solomon was one of the most feared kingpins within President Robert Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF and was Zimbabwe’s most decorated post-independence army general. The circumstances surrounding the fire remain suspicious, yet Mugabe has failed to order a special inquiry into Solomon’s death.

Farm workers, who had tried valiantly to douse the flames, were intensely questioned in order to piece together the events leading up to Solomon’s death. Initial accounts suggested that the fire was accidental, most probably having been started by a candle after Solomon retired to bed early amidst a power cut, which are commonplace in Zimbabwe. Such findings, however, failed to allay Joice’s suspicions of foul play as she maintained that the means of escape from the burning house were so easy, especially for a man with combat experience, making it difficult to believe Solomon would have failed to elude the flames. It later transpired that Solomon’s cell phone and groceries were still in his car, the front driver door still standing open, hinting at the possibility that he was accosted upon his arrival at the farmhouse, adding further weight to suspicions of foul play.

The police are said to be in the process of finalising their investigations, with unofficial reports stating that, at the very least, they have been unable to rule out the possibility of foul play in Solomon’s death. They appear, however, to be afraid of declaring such a discovery themselves and would prefer to hand over their findings to an independent inquiry or a judicial officer to make a conclusive verdict.

More so than the actual events of that night, it is the too-coincidental timing and the huge ramifications of Solomon’s death that have made many sceptical about his fiery demise, none more so than Joice, who lost not only her husband but probably her only real chance at becoming Zimbabwe’s next president. It was no secret that Joice’s presidential ambitions were buoyed almost solely by the allegiance of a substantial portion of the armed forces to her husband, making it a vital point for her to ascertain whether his death was an accident or a gambit to decimate her power base.

Suspicion has naturally fallen on those who stand to make notable gains from Solomon’s death, including Emmerson Mnangagwa who, besides Joice, is the most significant other contender in the open – yet secret and not officially tolerated – power wrangling and succession race within ZANU-PF. Mnangagwa is the Speaker of Parliament, the former Minister of Defense and the head of the Joint Operations Command, the supreme organ for the coordination of state security in Zimbabwe.

Rivalry between Mnangagwa and Joice came to a head in 2004 when the position of Vice President fell vacant after the death of Simon Muzenda. The battle to fill Muzenda’s post saw ZANU-PF’s allegiance split between the two candidates. Those who backed Joice appeared to do so either out of loyalty to Solomon, or as a move to ensure that Mnangagwa, who is considered by many to be more brutal than Mugabe, did not get the post.

Mugabe endorsed Joice’s candidacy in a tactic aimed not only at retaining the loyalty of the armed forces by using Joice’s connection to Solomon but also at protecting his own leadership from the threat of Mnangagwa’s power hunger. Additionally, it was seen as a move to repay a debt Mugabe had long owed to Solomon who was, after all, the man who led Zimbabwe’s liberation forces for many years whilst Mugabe languished in jail. Solomon played a crucial role in cementing Mugabe’s leadership over the liberation forces, undoubtedly paving the way to Mugabe’s presidency upon independence.

Mugabe, in turn, knowing that his presidency would not have been possible without Solomon, rewarded him with command over the Zimbabwe National Army at independence, a position he held when the army brutally quelled dissidence in Matebeleland shortly after independence, massacring many thousands of minority Matebeles. Such contributions to the consolidation of Mugabe’s power earned Solomon much favour with Mugabe. Solomon apparently intended to use this favouritism to set up his wife as Mugabe’s successor, though his efforts in this regard remained incomplete at the time of his death.

Mugabe has been adamant that elections must be held in Zimbabwe before March 2012, as he wants to be rid of the arrangement forcing him to share power with the MDC. Mugabe’s push for early elections is the result of international pressures to make key democratic reforms in Zimbabwe and to meet an African Union deadline for free and fair elections by 2013. The succession battle in ZANU-PF is heating up once more, and now a single successor to Mugabe needs to be identified in order to stabilise ZANU-PF’s internal politics.

Joice, as a result of holding the office of Vice President, would have been the most likely successor to President Mugabe, but now she faces the reality of receiving little more than the pity vote in the wake of her husband’s death. The succession race is now expected to be dominated by Mnangagwa, who has benefited greatly from Joice’s unexpected fall in political stature.

Zimbabwe currently finds itself facing further political instability. Notably, there is an on-going struggle to draft a new constitution, which drafting process has been repeatedly subverted by outbreaks of violence and disagreement between ZANU-PF and MDC. Mugabe has stated that a referendum on this new constitution will be held towards the end of December 2011, despite the fact that it is unlikely a draft will be completed in time. Mugabe has, furthermore, combined presidential and parliamentary elections (which have historically been held separately) in an effort to force ZANU-PF parliamentarians to campaign for his continued presidency while their own political careers are at stake.

It is within this relentless drive to maintain ZANU-PF’s grip on power that many fear that ZANU-PF hardliners, such as Mnangagwa, will emerge as political frontrunners. With such hardliners set to dominate ZANU-PF, it is increasingly unlikely that there will be any final determination as to the cause of Solomon’s death, and even less probable that anyone will find powerful forces within ZANU-PF responsible. If indeed there is any ZANU-PF involvement in Solomon’s death, he may well join the list of ZANU-PF leaders who have fallen victim to their fellow comrades during times of intra-party power struggles, and whose killers were never brought to justice.


Sarah Logan is currently practising as an attorney in Johannesburg, predominantly in commercial law, although her interests and true passion lie in working towards the attainment of democracy and good governance in Africa, and the achievement of the social and economic betterment of all of Africa’s people.


15 October 2011