A security guard employed at the late Retired General Solomon Mujuru’s farm, Clemence Runhare, yesterday stunned the court when he said he heard what sounded like gunfire two hours before he was alerted to a fire that killed the former army commander in August last year.
Runhare was testifying at the Harare Magistrates’ Court on the first day of the inquest into the death of Zimbabwe’s most decorated commander.
He also told the inquest, presided over by regional magistrate Walter Chikwanha, Gen Mujuru was in the company of an unidentified male passenger when he arrived at his Alamein Farm in Beatrice around 8pm on August 15.
No other human remains were found at the house when Gen Mujuru’s remains were retrieved.
Runhare corroborated statements from three other witnesses who said the general, believed to have been a heavy drinker, was sober on the fateful night although he had taken four tots of whisky mixed with soda water at a local motel before he went home.
“Before I opened the gate, I saw that he was in the company of a male person,” Runhare said.
“I didn’t look closer to try and identify who this person was.
“In fact that morning we had received information that his driver had gone to Harare and I assumed he was the one.”
Asked if he spoke to the passenger, Runhare said: “I could not quiz the general over who the person was.
“After 12 midnight, I heard noise which sounded like the explosion of bullets coming from the direction of the Mujuru residence.”
The Mujuru family lawyer, Thakor Kewada, asked Runhare what he did after hearing the “gunfire”.
The guard said he assumed poachers at a neighbouring farm were responsible. He said workers like him were not permitted to enter the farmhouse.
Runhare said after he was alerted about the fire, he together with a colleague, approached police at the farm and asked them to call the fire brigade.
He said the police said they had no mobile phones and their communication radio was broken.
But police Constable Augustinos Chinyoka, who was manning the main entrance together with two other police officers, contradicted Runhare’s evidence.
He claimed Gen Mujuru was alone when he arrived at the farm and had what appeared to be a suit hung from the back seat of his Isuzu double-cab vehicle.
Chinyoka said he did not hear any unusual noise from the farmhouse, but only noticed the fire at around 2am after his colleagues had retired to bed.
“After the general had slept, I patrolled the yard three times and electricity had been restored by then (after an earlier power outage),” he said.
“After going back to the guardroom at around 2am, I saw flames in the middle of the (farmhouse) roof.
“I went to wake my colleagues up to try and put out the fire, but we realised the smoke and fire were concentrated in the room which I later learnt was the bedroom.
“We broke the doors and smashed the windows, but realised the fire was intense and we
were unable to control it,” Chinyoka continued.
Vice-President Joice Mujuru, who has in the past said she did not understand how a trained soldier of Mujuru’s calibre died in such a fire, attended the inquest dressed in black.
According to the State’s opening statement presented by Attorney-General’s representatives, Sharon Fero and Clemence Chimbari, Zesa ruled out an electrical fault as the cause of the fire.
Forensic scientists from South Africa also submitted a report ruling out inflammable liquids or explosives.
Gen Mujuru’s daughters, the late general’s brother Joel and other family members, as well as Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo, attended the hearing.
VP Mujuru told journalists outside the court she was happy with yesterday’s proceedings and expected the inquest to unveil the truth.
“It was a good beginning, but during the proceedings, I was called by His Excellency (President Robert Mugabe) and when I returned, some witnesses had already testified.
“I hope the truth will come out,” she said.
However, her lawyer complained the family had not been furnished with all statements from the witnesses lined up to testify in the inquest.
“I got a copy of a subpoena with three witnesses yet I know there are over 22 witnesses,” Kewada said.
“All I was to do was sit and listen and take notes, totally unprepared.
“It put me into the boxing ring with my hands tied behind my back.”
Security was tightened yesterday with police screening people entering the courts.