Retired Zimbabwean Army General Solomon Mujuru, husband of Vice President Joyce Mujuru, died early Tuesday in a fire at his farmhouse in Beatrice, south of Harare, the capital, military and civilian authorities said.
The death of Mujuru, 62, long seen wielding substantial power within the ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe, set off speculation as to the political repercussions within the party. He was seen as a key factor in his wife's chances of succeeding Mr. Mugabe. Some see the balance now swing toward Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.
A senior commander in the 1970s struggle for black majority rule and commander of the army for nearly a decade after independence in 1980, Solomon Mujuru is said to have died around 1 a.m. Tuesday after his farmhouse in Beatrice district, Mashonaland East province, caught fire under circumstances which remained unclear.
Farm clerk Stephen Arineyo told VOA Studio 7 correspondent Thomas Chiripasi that he and farmworkers tried in vain to put out the fire which engulfed the structure.
ZANU-PF National Chairman Simon Khaya Moyo, who visited the farm early Tuesday, said the party was saddened by Mujuru’s death, which he described as mysterious.
Moyo said Mujuru had been a force for cohesion within the party.
ZANU-PF spokesman, Rugare Gumbo called Mujuru's death a huge shock.
War veterans leader Joseph Chinotimba said the loss of Mujuru was unprecedented in the post-independence era.
Douglas Mwonzora, spokesman for the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, said his party much regretted Mujuru’s passing.
Mwonzora said Mujuru was well respected as a professional soldier.
The MDC spokesman encouraged Zimbabwe Republic Police Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri to see that the incident was thoroughly investigated.
The ZANU-PF leadership for Mashonaland East province called an emergency meeting on the news of Mujuru’s death. Provincial Chairman Ray Kaukonde said his committee urged the ZANU-PF politburo to declare Mujuru a national hero.
Mourners at Mujuru’s farm, refusing to speak on the record, said they suspected foul play. Some questioned why Mujuru was unable to escape the fire when the doors were unlocked. Sources said he was found near the door to his living room.
Others noted that there was a manned police post at his farmhouse. Eyewitnesses said the fire brigade took five hours to arrive and then was without water.
Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said an investigation is under way with forensics experts seeking the cause of the blaze which engulfed the house. The body was taken to One Commando Barracks, in Cranborne, Harare for forensic tests.
Political analyst John Makumbe said Mujuru’s death could shake ZANU-PF's foundations as he was the head of one of the main factions within the party.
Mourners gathered at Vice President Mujuru’s house in Harare's Chisipite section.