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Mujuru family demand exhumation of his body

By Gift Phiri and Xolisani Ncube

HARARE – The family of the late Retired General Solomon Mujuru yesterday demanded the exhumation of his body and a fresh autopsy by an independent forensic expert.

Vice President Mujuru flanked by her daughters
Vice President Mujuru flanked by her daughters

This came after a state-appointed forensic pathologist claimed in court yesterday that Mujuru’s cause of the death could have been choking by smoke from fire.

Cuban pathologist Gabriel Gonzales Alvero, who analysed Mujuru’s purported body at 1 Commando Barracks, was quizzed in court on how he managed to positively identify the corpse.

He was told by officials at the military camp where he conducted the autopsy that the body was that of Zimbabwe’s most decorated general. He said the body he examined had met death by asphyxiation by smoke, and that the deceased inhaled carbon monoxide.

But family attorney Thakor Kewada, who was assisted by forensic expert Reggie Perumal from South Africa, trashed Alvero’s findings. He said Perumal could only assist the inquest if the body was to be re- examined.

“The most satisfactory way to do it is for him to examine the body. If he comes in and is asked to give evidence he could put in a whole lot of theoretical propositions forward without a factual base,” Kewada said.

“And therefore the most ideal thing is for the body to be exhumed and for an autopsy to be carried out thoroughly according to international standards,” said Kewada.

But regional magistrate Walter Chikwanha said such an application could only be entertained by the Home Affairs ministry. Chikwanha will rule on Monday on an application to have Perumal testify in the inquest.

Kewada questioned Alvero’s credentials, and why the autopsy had to be done at a military institution without adequate equipment for a forensic study. Alvero claimed he was part of the “Cuban Medical Brigade”, but admitted he was not registered with the Zimbabwe Medical Association.

He further told the court that he had been a pathologist for 29 years in Cuba, but had only practiced as a pathologist for seven months in Zimbabwe. Evidence led by Kewada exhibited how the Mujuru family appeared to have lost confidence in the autopsy conducted by the State pathologist.

“According to my forensic expert, your findings are wrong and I put it to you that you hurried to conduct this post-mortem even when you did not have enough equipment,” said Kewada. Alvero admitted that he did not do enough because of insufficient tools.

“When we completed the study, we thought the elements were enough to make conclusions. The body had been completely carbonised,” Alvero said.

“The body was lying face down, the right hand was along the body, an part of the left arm was under his thorax (chest). The legs were extended. Taking into account the state of the body, we decided to take the body to an appropriate place for study,” he said.

Alvero said he wanted to take the body to Parirenyatwa Hospital mortuary, but the officers attending the scene decided that the remains should be taken to 1 Commando Barracks mortuaries.

“The first challenge was that there were not enough instruments to use for the study,” said Alvero, speaking through Spanish translator Lovemore Gwati.

“All the instruments we normally use to carry out an autopsy were not there. So we went to Parirenyatwa and brought some of the instruments. We got some of the instruments and not all of them.”

“We started by looking at the skull,” Alvero said.

“We observed that there was no sign of trauma on the skull. We observed that part of the skull had been broken because of the intensity of the heat.” Kewada, however said there was no way Alvero could have known without running tests on the skull.

Alvero said he proceeded to examine the chest and abdomen, which he said were “missing.”

“The walls of the abdomen were missing. I suspect that it could have been burnt,” he said.

Kewada disputed this, saying there was no way Mujuru’s internal anatomy could have been burned when the carpet beneath the body was not damaged. But Alvero insisted the body was “highly carbonised.”

“On the ribs, we observed that they had separated, some bending. It was caused by the fire,” he claimed. He said the left arm and the lower part of the body were burnt to ash. Alvero said the most important exam was that of the thoracic tract that takes air into the lungs.

“The presence of carbon monoxide in the tract was part of the important element that caused death. There was carbon in the trachea mucus,” Alvero said.

“This gas could not have been found in the mucus tract because one can only inhale gas if they are alive. But we can’t say conclusively that it was the gases that caused death.”

Asked by state attorney Sharon Fero what that meant, Alvero said: “It is a vital element. It tells us that the fire when it started, the person was alive and he was swallowing the carbon monoxide.”

“The kidneys, bladder, prostrate were absent. The spleen and endocrine organ could not be found. It was the act of fire,” Alvero said. But the Mujuru pathologist refuted this: “My expert says that it was unlikely for the kidney to be burnt because it is in a protected position.”

Alvero said there were two exams done, one on August 16 and another on August 19, attended by Crispen Makedenge the investigating officer.

Kewada quizzed Alvero why he had not carried out an X-ray on the body, which should be the first stage of any autopsy but said he did not have the equipment at the place.

Alvero said he had used a pliers, scissors and blades in the autopsy, instruments described as rudimentary by Kewada.

Kewada quizzed the pathologist why he failed to examine the brain as required of all autopsies, but Alvero replied that it was “inconvenient because of the state of the body.”

Kewada said: “A proper autopsy carried out by a pathologist involves cutting the body from top to bottom and examining each organ separately, you didn’t do it.”

He said there was no proper report on the skull, but Alvero claimed the brain had been severely damaged by fire. “How did you arrive at that conclusion when you did not open the skull?” Kewada asked.

“As a pathologist, you were duty-bound to examine every organ of the body,” Kewada probed further.

“We examined what was possible,” Alvero replied.

Kewada said the autopsy report contradicted photographs taken on the scene. While Alvero claimed the heart was missing in his report, Kewada said it was appearing in pictures taken at the scene.

Asked if he wrote the autopsy report, he replied “yes.” But he said he probably made a mistake when he translated the autopsy report from Espanola/Spanish to English. He said he translated using English/Espanola dictionary and also got help from his Cuban colleagues.

“Your report could be flawed?” Kewada asked, to which Alvero replied: “It could be.” Asked if he still had the original autopsy report done in Spanish, Alvero said: “I don’t have that one.”

The Mujuru family pathologist further said he doubted whether DNA results that matched with Mujuru’s daughter Kumbirai saying chances were there that could prove otherwise. Daily News