Mujuru inquest: cops face arrest

Police constables in charge of the security of the late General Solomon Mujuru could be fired, fined or imprisoned for negligence.

The late General Solomon Mujuru – was unhappy with those guarding him and threatened to get rid of them.
The late General Solomon Mujuru – was unhappy with those guarding him and threatened to get rid of them.

The ongoing inquest into the death of the first commander of the Zimbabwe National Army has highlighted serious incompetence in the force, as well as tough working conditions.

Mujuru’s lawyers and relatives have slammed the police for negligence. His widow vice President Joice Mujuru says government will look into the matter after a police officer admitted having slept on guard.

The inquest has heard that the constables were fast asleep when the fire that incinerated the general broke out. Their police issue radios had not been working for some time – despite having been reported to their superiors. They had no cash for airtime for their mobile phones and therefore no means of communication whatsoever. They did not even know where the general’s bedroom was.

This breakdown in basic standards within the force was compounded by the fact that the municipal fire tender came 60km from Harare with no water in the bowser.

The officers could be charged under any or all of these clauses in the Act: “abandoning or delivering up any station, post, camp on guard which it is his duty to defend; leaving his guard post, beat, patrol or other place of duty without permission or reasonable excuse; or sleeping, loitering or committing any irregularity when on duty.”

Contradictory evidence given by those appearing before the inquest has fuelled speculation that Mujuru, who was said to lead a faction within Zanu (PF) battling to take control of the party and come to some accommodation with the MDC, may have been a victim of foul play. But forensic experts have ruled out the use of inflammables. Some witnesses said they heard gun shots, while others said it was the sound of asbestos sheets exploding.

The inquest heard that Mujuru had ordered staff at his farm to stop feeding the police officers guarding him, and had plans to ask that they be withdrawn just days before he died. He was reportedly furious after the officers, said to have been drunk, severely assaulted one of his workers who had to seek hospital treatment. Rosemary Short, a maid at the farm Mujuru occupied in Beatrice, told the Harare Magistrates’ Court that the powerful Zanu (PF) power broker had confided in her that the police officers were avoiding him since the brutal assault on an unnamed employee.

“He said he had no security and was as good as being on his own,” Short told the court and under the Police Act “being drunk on or off duty,” is a punishable crime.

Efforts to get a comment from the police were fruitless.

Giving testimony last week under oath Constable Obert Mark admitted under cross examination by Mujuru’s lawyers that he was sleeping and also that he did not know the house plan.

The other cops who also were on duty during the fire are constables Augastinos Chinyoka, and Lazarus Handikatari.

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