A Zimbabwean policeman walks past the burnt out home of retired army general Solomon Mujuru in Beatrice Farm
A Zimbabwean policeman walks past the burnt out home of retired army general Solomon Mujuru in Beatrice Farm Reuters

Zimbabwean police have launched an investigation to uncover the cause of the fire that killed one of Zimbabwe's most powerful men, retired General Solomon Mujuru on Tuesday.

Former military chief Solomon Mujuru, 62, was "burnt beyond recognition" in a fire at his farm located 35 miles south-west of Harare in the early hours of Tuesday morning, police said.

Gen Mujuru who was a high political figurehead of Zanu-PF and acted as commander of the military wing of President Robert Mugabe's party during the liberation war.

Mujuru was also married to one of Zimbabwe's two vice-presidents, Joyce Mujuru.

The conditions that caused the fire that killed the ex- commander are not yet clear but the police said that the fire at the farmhouse could have been caused by a burning candle.

Other sources, on the other hand, say there was no electricity at the time and insist the fire could have also been caused by a power surge.

"So far initial investigations reveal that the fire could have been caused by a candle lit by a domestic servant when lights went out," police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena said.

However, the latest rumours say of a conspiracy in the battle to succeed the president, Robert Mugabe might have also been behind his death.

The death of Mujuru is set to complicate the battle to succeed President Robert Mugabe whom he helped to take over the control of Zanu in the 1970s as he was expected to help decide who should be his successor as the head of the party.

Analysts say that Zanu PF is divided over who should succeed the Mugabe, and explain that two internal factions are battling over influence and power.

Mujuru's wife is one of the rare Zanu-PF politicians that willingly collaborates with opposition leader and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangarai and has been set as a serious contender in the succession race, should Mugabe retire.

Opposing her however is another important figure of the party, Emmerson Mnangagwa, the defence minister who is known for his hard-line stance and is nicknamed "the crocodile."

"What we know is he died in a fire accident at his home this morning. The police are looking into the cause and they will inform us. Personally, I rule out all speculation but of course you can never be certain." Rugare Gumbo, spokesman for Zanu-PF, said.

Despite observers pointing out that Mugabe and Mujuru had become more distant in the last few years, the spokesman added: "Obviously the president must be troubled by the death of someone he worked with for a long time. They were very close."

General Constantine Chiwenga, the current military chief, who visited the farm told state radio: "The way he has gone is difficult to comprehend. He was such a fine fighter."

The new rumour of an internal fight has spread rapidly, raising fears of more political instability and violence in the country.

"It's a huge shock. The suspicion of a power play is everywhere. Everybody's talking about it. If that was involved, it's a huge event and could spark violence between factions of Zanu-PF, the BBC quoted Eddie Cross, policy co-ordinator general of the MDC.

"We've been saying for a long time that if there's a civil war in Zimbabwe, it won't be between Zanu-PF and the MDC, it will be between factions of Zanu-PF."

"I think Robert Mugabe will take it badly. He will read into it rivalries in his own party. Our information is that Mugabe is now looking for a quiet retirement, so this is the last thing he needs, "Cross also reportedly said.

While Mugabe had already acknowledged there were divisions within the party he often played them down. The death of Mujuru however risks fracturing the party even more as allegations and suspicions are rising. With the ex-commander out of the game, politicians who aspire to a more important position within the party will try to become more influential, more popular and more competitive, especially with elections planned next year.