Vice-President Joice Mujuru yesterday broke down in tears as she received two Volvo fire engines donated to the Harare City Council in memory of her late husband, Retired General Solomon Mujuru, who died in an inferno at his Beatrice farm in August.
The fire engines were donated by the late Mujuru’s close friend, Peter Lobel.
Mujuru was burnt beyond recognition under as yet unclear circumstances inside his farmhouse, about 60km outside Harare. Investigation findings over his death have not been made public.
Vice-President Mujuru could not hold back her tears after receiving the donation on behalf of council.
Mujuru’s voice shook as she accepted the donation.
“It’s (the death of her husband) hard, but it’s a fact,” Mujuru said.
“Words fail me to thank comrades and friends who have been with me since my husband’s departure. I wasn’t as close to the Lobel family as my husband was. He used to tell me, ‘Amai Chipo,’ that’s how he usually called me, ‘don’t worry about cooking for me, I have eaten at Peter’s place’,” she said.
“You have shown your closeness to him in real practice. You have shown how close he was to the City of Harare.
From the day I lost my husband, no day passes without reading something about him or someone calling. We didn’t know who this man was, yet I had children with him and had stayed with him for 35 years,” she said.
Lobel said he was saddened by the death of his friend Mujuru in a fire and felt compelled to assist the city council’s depleted firefighting department. Before yesterday’s donation, council only had two operational fire tenders to serve Greater Harare.
“Early in August at around 7am I received a call that there had been a fire and Solomon Mwendamberi Mujuru had died. He was my friend and when my mother passed on, I called him to carry her coffin.
He was a kingmaker and after all he was King of the Jews,” said Lobel in apparent reference to the biblical King Solomon.
“His passing-on and that of many other people because of fire prompted me to do something. I decided to go to Walvis Bay (Namibia) myself from America and drive those vehicles to Harare.
It was an incredible journey that lasted a week. The trucks never broke down, the roads were beautiful and we had no problems at all,” said Lobel.
“The state of fire engines in Harare needs attention and I am glad to help them with this gesture. The (Harare) equipment is 30 to 40 years old and needs replacement, they need people to come and help.”
The Lobel family, now based in New York, is known for its popular Lobels bread brand in Zimbabwe.
It emerged that the fire crew that attended the scene on August 16 was ill-equipped to deal with the blaze. Reports say on the fateful night, the Fire Brigade arrived at the farm without water and had to fetch it from surrounding areas.
Council spokesperson Leslie Gwindi said the readiness of the fire brigade was compromised by inadequate resources. “We did not have suitable vehicles and this has been going on (for sometime).
“We need to be empowered so that we are ready to respond to emergencies on time,” said Gwindi in an interview this week.
Mayor Muchadeyi Masunda said he had known the Lobel family’s magnanimity for a long time since their days in Bulawayo where they established their business.
“What Peter has done today for the country goes back to Bulawayo. We will see to it that in the days I am in this position, you get rewarded in a befitting manner because of what you and your family have done, not only now, but Lobels’ quality bread,” said Masunda.