An inquest into the death of former army commander Solomon Mujuru last August ended on Monday with a Harare magistrate turning down a request by the deceased’s relatives to exhume his remains for further analysis by a South African expert.
Coroner Walter Chikwanha said he could not grant the request by Mujuru family lawyer Thakor Kewada to exhume his remains because he had not had enough time to review the entirety of the evidence presented by 38 witnesses, including the widow of the late ZANU-PF power broker, Vice President Joice Mujuru, who testified Monday.
The family wanted the remains to be re-examined by a South African pathologist, Dr. Reggie Perumel, citing failures by local pathologist Gabriel Aguero Gonzalez.
Chikwanha said he needs more time to study the evidence submitted by Gonzales and the entire testimonies given in court before making his recommendations. Those, he said, he would direct to the Office of Attorney General Johannes Tomana.
Magistrate Chikwanha did not say when he would issue findings in the inquest.
Chikwanha said his hands were also tied by the Inquest Act, which bars him as coroner from ordering exhumations. The Home Affairs Ministry issues such orders.
Vice President Mujuru was the last to give evidence in the three week-long inquest. This was in the form of an affidavit - Kewada said she could not take the witness stand due to her emotional state, and state attorney Clemence Chimbari read the affidavit.
The vice president said the remains of her husband were still engulfed in fire when she arrived at Ruzambo Alamein farm in Beatrice last August 16. Like other witnesses before her, she said the fire brigade arrived at the accident scene with no water, commenting that the fire-fighters were “totally ineffective”.
Kewada said the family’s next move would be determined by the coroner's findings.
The closure of the inquest left more questions than answers as testimony did not appear to establish the cause of the fire that destroyed the farmhouse and left charred remains.
Former freedom fighter Wilfred Mhanda, who once worked with the late general Mujuru, said the way the inquest has been conducted smacks of a “cover up”.
He said that for the magistrate to say his recommendations would be directed to the Office of the Attorney General and the Ministry of Home Affairs ministers was a way of setting up obstacles for the family in its quest to establish the truth.
“It was established that the pathologist did a very shoddy work, that the police did a very shoddy work. How on earth could they present samples to forensic experts almost 10 days after the death? And taking blood samples almost 10 days after the death?’ Mhanda asked.
Lawyer Lovemore Madhuku said the request by the Mujuru family for the exhumation of the remains was premature. He says the magistrate must be given an opportunity to assess all of the evidence presented before recommending such a step.
“The reason being given by the Mujuru family to exhume the body is that they want another opinion,” Madhuku said. “So you can get many opinions but at the end the decision as to which opinion to take will be made by the magistrate, and if bodies were to be exhumed jut to deal with opinions it might do a lot of violence to our own beliefs about how we should treat dead bodies.”
Madhuku said that if the inquest finds that the cause of the general’s death was not natural, "that is not the end of the matter as it leads to a further set of investigations, depending on whether the authorities decide if they are going to investigate."