Mujuru inquest begins

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The long-awaited inquest hearing into the mysterious death of Zimbabwes most decorated army commander, Retired General Solomon Mujuru, opens at the Harare Magistrates Court today with forensic experts from South Africa expected to play a vital role in what will undoubtedly be the most high-profile inquiry of the year.

The hearing is a highly sensitive matter following the perplexing death of the general, whose nom de guerre during the liberation struggle was Rex Nhongo, in an inferno at his Alamein Farm, Beatrice, in August last year.

Walter Chikwanha, a regional magistrate in the Chief Magistrates Office, will, on behalf of the Judiciary Service Commission (JSC), preside over the highest-profile inquest ever to be conducted since independence, at the Harare Magistrates Court beginning today.

JSC Deputy Secretary Rex Shana told NewsDay Chikwanha would be the man in charge of the inquiry.

Shana said: Chikwanha will take charge of the proceedings, and I wouldnt know who will stand in for the Attorney-General (AG)s Office since it is a different department.

The Director of Public Prosecutions in the AGs Office, Chris Mutangadura, could not comment as he said he was out of office, and as such could not discuss the matter.

But, a court official who declined to be named said area public prosecutor Jonathan Murombedzi could lead evidence from several witnesses lined up that include civilians, security officers and forensic experts from South Africa in Court Number 8.

Hundreds of people are expected to overwhelm the Harare Magistrates Court amid concerns of limited courtroom space to accommodate interested parties, including the families of the late general and his widow Vice-President Joice Mujuru, relatives, friends, business partners, Zanu PF supporters and top politicians including ministers.

It could, however, not be ascertained whether VP Mujuru would attend the hearings and whether she would also present evidence before the magistrate.

The inquest is expected to bring into the open how the highly decorated Mujuru died in August last year. Mujurus charred remains were found in his farmhouse which was razed down in an inferno whose cause has remained a mystery.

There was widespread suspicion of foul play as confusing and often conflicting statements were proffered from various quarters.

The Vice-Presidents husband was a vital cog in Zanu PFs divisive political power games in which he was regarded as the kingmaker. He reportedly led one of the two main factions in the former ruling party fighting to succeed President Robert Mugabe (88). The other faction is widely believed to be led by Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, a long-time Mugabe ally.

Since Mujurus death, Zimbabwe has been gripped with anxiety over delays by the police to release the outcome of their investigations and the opening of the inquest.

The inquest is expected to determine whether Mujuru died before or during the fire and further establish what may have caused the inferno.

After that, the court would recommend the way forward. An inquest is a judicial investigation conducted by a judge or government official into sudden and unexplained deaths.

Mujuru, a key figure in Zanu PFs internal struggles over President Mugabes succession, was 67 when he died.