When Napoleon Bonaparte, the great French leader, died in exile on the island of St Helena in 1821, there was heavy speculation over the cause of his death, although he was understood to have gone through a lingering decline in health following stomach problems.
British military doctors on St Helena performed an autopsy and found evidence of stomach cancer, which was given as the cause of his death. But the nature of Napoleon’s illness — and his long list of enemies — led his friends to suggest that he might have been the victim of slow poisoning.
Scientists got into the act in the 1960s when newfangled tests showed unusually high levels of arsenic in Napoleon’s hair; some historians called this proof of poisoning, while others blamed the arsenic on drinking water, hair cream, or even the wallpaper in his cottage.
Most experts seem to agree that unless and until Napoleon’s body is exhumed, the actual cause of his death cannot be known.
Another famous person whose cause of death has remained shrouded in mystery is Alexander the Great who was 33 when he died in Babylon after several days of illness. Historian Plutarch claimed Alexander was attacked by fever after a day of drinking with friends, and that before dying he lingered long enough for his soldiers to file by him for a final farewell.
Rumours that Alexander was poisoned have carried down through the ages, perhaps because no firm cause of death was ever reported. University of Maryland disease expert David Oldach speculated in 1998 that Alexander died of typhoid fever.
More recently Slobodan Milosevic, the former Serbian president, died suddenly in 2006 in jail at The Hague, Netherlands, where he was being tried for war crimes. An autopsy suggested a heart attack, but Milosevic’s supporters insisted he had been poisoned by authorities. The real cause of his death has remained contested.
Zimbabwe has its own “unsolved” mystery deaths of popular political figures like Josiah Tongogara, Herbert Chitepo, Sydney Malunga and most recently Retired General Solomon Mujuru whose death has become subject of wild speculation.
Many Zimbabweans believe Mujuru was a victim of power struggles and divisions within Zanu PF especially because the police who were ordered to conduct an investigation have decided to conceal from the public results of their probe.
What has made the case even more baffling are revelations this week by Home Affairs ministers that they too had not received findings of police investigations into the general’s death.
If the police will keep secret their findings, even from their ministers to whom they report, what does that mean?
The police may be justified to keep the results of their investigations away from the public domain for now, but it becomes curious logic for them to deny Mujuru’s wife, the Vice-President of the country, access to the report.
This level of secrecy by the police – wherever the order is coming from – breeds suspicion, and even despondency among members of the public. It becomes, in the people’s minds, a question of who killed the general.
That the police have indicated results of the probe were very likely destined for an inquest, suggests the good general indeed died from causes other than candle flame.
Parliamentarians are debating the Mujuru death mystery with many calling for the hiring of foreign investigation experts because they have lost faith in the local police.
Mujuru’s charred remains were found at his farmhouse in Beatrice after an inferno razed down the house. It is not clear whether he died before or during the ﬁre.
MDC-T MP for Masvingo Central Jefferson Chitando suggested investigations be carried out by the British, Russians or the Chinese.
“The nation demands that we set up an investigating team and we call in the Scotland Yard Police, Russian police or Chinese police to look into the matter.
“Our people think that our soldiers, the police and Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), who are involved in the investigations, are not doing a proper job. We want an independent committee to be set up,” Chitando said.
Such reaction from Parliament would prod even the idle mind to question the mystery surrounding the death of Solomon Mujuru. Why is there so much controversy surrounding this subject? Why is there the deep suspicion the late commander was deliberately put to death? Was the general murdered? If so, who would have wanted to murder him? What were their possible motives?
Because of the speculation, a result of the police delay in releasing results of their investigations, there are all sorts of theories playing around including even wild ones suggesting the former liberation war commander’s death was staged, and that the general is merely waiting for the right time to return.
Others believe General Mujuru’s fate was sealed at birth – that it was in the stars.
Everything said and done, the police must release the results of their investigations, no matter how flawed. Continued delay in doing so will raise suspicion wherever the results are being kept. They could be tampered with.
After the 2008 elections, results of the presidential vote were withheld for months and when they were finally released, they had lost credence. Many people think whoever was holding onto the election results tampered with the figures.
Equally, police efforts in the Mujuru death probe could be lost.