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War over bid to exhume Mujuru body

By Xolisani Ncube and Gift Phiri

HARARE – Harare regional magistrate Walter Chikwanha will today deliver a ruling on an application made by the Mujuru family last week to have top South African medical examiner Ganas Reggie Perumal admitted as witness in the on-going inquest to determine retired General Solomon Mujuru’s death.

Presiding Officer in the Mujuru Inquest, Provincial Magistrate Walter Chikwanha entering Harare Magistrates Court
Harare regional magistrate Walter Chikwanha

If Chikwanha rules in favour of the family, they will have to approach government through the ministry of Home Affairs for permission to exhume his remains interred at the national heroes’ acre, a development they feel could face serious objection from the state.

Some family members claim there is a ploy to stop the exhumation by unnamed government officials whatever the outcome of the court ruling. Last Friday, Thakor Kewada applied to Chikwanha for Mujuru’s remains to be exhumed and a “professional” autopsy conducted.

Mujuru family sources told the Daily News yesterday that there was a ploy by unnamed people in government not to have remains of the retired general exhumed on a pretext that Cuban pathologist, Gabriel Gonzales Alvero did a “good” job and that he is of great repute.

The ploy according to sources could involve a campaign to uplift Alvero’s little known history in pathological studies. If the ploy succeeds, the Mujuru family will be forced to contend with Alvero’s evidence which suggested that there was no foul play.

“It is going to be difficult for the state to approve our application but we are ready to tackle it as it comes. We have to get to the bottom of this case and leave no stone unturned,” said a family member speaking on condition of anonymity.

Alvero a member of the Cuban medical brigade conducted the post-mortem on the remains believed to be of Mujuru at One Commando Barracks, but failed to ascertain the cause of his death. He was accused of doing a sloppy autopsy by the top SA forensic scientist who reduced Alvero’s evidence to nothing.

Perumal boasts of being a consultant for international human rights body Amnesty International. Speaking through the family attorney, Thakor Kewada, Perumal trashed Alvero’s evidence and exposed the expatriate pathologist as unregistered with the local medical board.

He further attacked Alvero for not using appropriate tools when he was conducting his autopsy. This has forced the Mujuru family to demand the five-star general’s body to be exhumed and a proper examination conducted.

If granted, a feat the family says will not come easy, the government pathologist risks being exposed whether he did a good job or a shoddy one. His credentials will come under spotlight.

“Granting us our application puts the government on the spotlight whether this person who conducted the autopsy did it correctly or not,” said a source.

“It further places government on the spotlight of whether the people who come here as experts from outside the country are experienced and have the know-how of the job they would be performing,” added the sources.

Alvero on Friday told the court that the statement he provided to police officers investigating the matter could have been flawed and that he did not have his original Spanish copy.

Perumal, who was instructing Kewada, proved in court that there was medical malpractice arising in the manner in which the State pathologist Alvero conducted his autopsy.

The 56-year-old South African forensic expert had a few questions for Alvero that possibly suggest the Mujuru family is sceptical of the Cuban doctor’s testimony. Forensic scientists look at evidence at a crime scene, and then use it to put together clues that point to what might have happened.

A background of Perumal checked by the Daily News revealed he has vast wealth of experience in forensic science, having done his internship at King Edward Hospital in KwaZulu Natal in 1982 compared to Alvero’s questionable track record.

Between January 1983 and December 1984, Perumal was the district surgeon in central Durban performing clinical medico-legal functions especially related to examination of drivers for alcohol intoxication, victims of assault and rape survivors.

Perumal was attached to the Forensic Medical Specialist Service Division in KwaZulu Natal as registrar between January 1985 and July 1990. From there he became a specialist pathologist and lecturer at the Department of Forensic Medicine at the University of Natal until May 1994. After that he got seasonal appointments at the university from May 1994-96.

He has remained a part-time lecturer at the university, which has since been rechristened KwaZulu Natal University. Perumal has been in private practice as a specialist forensic pathologist since May 1994 to date. He has presented expert advice both in high and lower courts of South Africa.

He has been called by both defence and the State in criminal trials and by the plaintiff and defendants in civil matters. Perumal has conducted workshops for South African Police Service (SAPS) officers, prosecutors and magistrates in forensic science in his country. He has trained technicians and assisted in autopsies in the same country.

Perumal is also a consultant for international human rights body Amnesty International. He has assisted South Africa’s Independent Complaints Directorate. He boasts impressive academic credentials.

He is a holder of a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Durban obtained in 1976, then a master’s degree obtained from University of Natal (1981), and a Diploma in Forensic Medicine from South Africa’s College of Medicine in 1985.

He also holds a Master’s Degree in Forensic Pathology obtained from the University of Natal in 1989. He is currently studying towards a Master of Laws at the University of KwaZulu Natal.

If Chikwanha accedes to the family’s application, Perumal’s high experience and knowledge will come to test against Alvero’s 27 years’ experience as a pathologist. Daily News