29 January 2012

Zimbabwe: Gen Mujuru Died Before Fire - Allies

Photo: Vanguard
The threat posed by Boko Haram militants to Nigeria was a major topic of news from the country in 2012.

Harare — Allies of retired General Solomon Mujuru wants a prominent South African private forensic pathologist, Dr Reggie Perumal to get to the bottom of what happened to the former army commander as information filtering suggests he may have died before a fire broke out at his Beatrice farmhouse on August 16 last year.

Mujuru's family lawyer, Thakor Kewada last week requested that Perumal be allowed to quiz local pathologists and forensic experts at the ongoing inquest into the general's death which enters day 10 tomorrow.

Regional magistrate Walter Chikwanha who is presiding over the case will make a ruling tomorrow on the application.

The late general's allies who spoke to The Standard on condition of anonymity yesterday said there was no evidence to prove that Mujuru died from inhaling carbon monoxide as stated in a pathologist report presented to the ongoing inquest into the general's death.

"When one succumbs to asphyxiation due to smoke, the lungs are supposed to be grey, but his (Mujuru's lungs) were pink, which may mean that he did not die from carbon monoxide," said a medical doctor who is a friend to the family.

"There is therefore, need to get a second opinion from another pathologist and Perumal is one of the best in the industry. This may mean the exhumation of Mujuru to do a thorough forensic examination."

He made startling claims that one of Mujuru's legs was broken, which was not possible unless there was use of physical force.

"A fire cannot break a bone into two unless in the event of a severe trauma including torture," said the medical doctor.

Another expert, an emergency and trauma physician, confirmed that if a person dies from asphyxiation, especially involving carbon monoxide, the lungs turn dusky grey in colour.

"It's pathological diagnosis. Normal lungs look pink and they change colour to dusky grey," said the physician who requested anonymity.

He said carbon monoxide is toxic to the body as it injures the brain tissue and suppresses the central nervous system, causing someone to become unconscious and the body to shut down.

"It also causes acute heart cardiac injury," he said.

The physician said it was highly impossible for the human bone to break into pieces because of fire.

"You cannot have a clear-cut fracture," said the doctor. "You can have the erosion and disintegration of tissue, but it (bone) will remain as ashes rather than anything else."

The doctor was however, quick to add: "As the General tried to escape, he could have fallen over and could have developed a proper fracture from there."

Investigating officer, Chief Superintendent Crispen Makedenge of CID Law and Order section, however, ruled out foul play saying pathologist reports have shown that he died from carbonisation, meaning there was inhalation of carbon monoxide.

He also said the charred remains belonged to Mujuru, according to DNA tests which matched the blood samples from Mujuru's daughter, Kumbirai.

However, a close relative yesterday questioned why police doctor, Edward Fusire, took the samples and handed them to investigating officers, instead of taking them straight to the laboratory. Kumbirai testified in court that she was never told of the results.

Many questions remain unanswered in the inquest which has seen at least 28 witnesses testifying. The mystery surrounding the blue flame which engulfed Mujuru's burning body has still not been unravelled.

Constable Cletwell Garisai of Beatrice Police Station and the officer-in-charge, Inspector Simon Dube, told the inquest that they poured at least 10 buckets of water to douse the blue flame which was intense and became ferocious when water was poured on it.

Harare fire brigade station officer, Clever Mafoti, said the fire could have been a result of arson, with indications that it could have emanated from two sources.

Zesa also ruled out an electrical fault as the cause of the fire. Douglas Chiradza Nyakungu, who drank with Mujuru at Beatrice Motel on the eve of his death, told the inquest that the general was not drunk and had told him he intended to leave for Beitbridge en route to Polokwane at 2am.

He said the general received a call on his mobile phone when he was about to leave the motel at 8pm and spoke for about four minutes.

However, Makedenge produced a printout which showed that the general last spoke on his mobile phone at 6pm.

It remains to be known, who the mystery caller was and what the subject of discussion was.

Could Mujuru perish into ashes in 2 hours?

The late General's close associate also questioned why Mujuru's body burnt into ashes in a matter of two hours yet it takes over 11 hours to do an ordinary cremation in a confined environment.

"The family believes that there is a conspiracy to conceal what really happened to Mujuru and that is why we are requesting for Perumal to come in," he said.

On Thursday, Mujuru's elder brother told the inquest that the family doubted whether the remains buried at the national heroes' acre were those of the late general, as police had not positively identified them before he was laid to rest.

Kumbirai also said the human remains believed to be his father's were buried without ascertaining their identity, as the police only took her blood samples on to match those of the remains through a DNA test later.

Forensic pathologist perumal yet to be reached

YESTERDAY, Dr Perumal told The Standard he knew that his services were required in the Mujuru case.

"I am aware they want me to come there, but they haven't requested me to do so."

Asked if he was prepared to be involved in the case, the highly regarded forensic pathologist said he could not say much since he had not seen any papers to that effect.

"If I had been approached formally, I could answer the question, right now I haven't seen the papers concerning the case, so I can't say anything, " he said from his South African base late yesterday.

Perumal has solved prominent cases, including the mystery surrounding the death of South African cricketer Tertius Bosch who was initially thought to have died from Guillain-Barre syndrome, a debilitating wasting disease, but had succumbed to poisoning.

He is a forensic pathologist in private practice for the past 14 years.

He works with lawyers and advocates and serves as an expert witness in court matters.

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