Earlier photograph of Solomon Mujuru who was instrumental in the national liberation war that won the independence of Zimbabwe in 1980. Mujuru died in a fire at his home on August 16, 2011., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Pathologists differ on Mujuru
Saturday, 04 February 2012 00:00
Innocent Ruwende Senior Reporter
GENERAL Solomon Mujuru was alive when fire gutted his farmhouse and might have died from inhaling carbon monoxide, a local pathologist said yesterday. However, a South African pathologist hired by the Mujuru family said the autopsy was not adequately and professionally done.
The 36th witness in the inquest, Dr Gabriel Aguero-Gonzalez, who is part of the Cuban doctors' brigade who spoke in Spanish with Mr Lovemore Gwata interpreting, said the presence of carbon monoxide in Gen Mujuru's trachea showed that he inhaled the gas while he was still alive.
The pathologist, who has 29 years experience, concluded that Gen Mujuru died due to open fire whose origins were not known.
The Mujuru pathologist, Dr Reggie Perumel - through the family's lawyer Mr Thakor Kewada - argued that the post-mortem was not done properly because the local pathologist did not carry out an X-ray, examine skeleton structures, investigate the identity of the person and come up with the real cause of death.
He says the autopsy did not exclude traumatic death.
In his evidence-in-chief, Dr Aguero-Gonzalez, who has worked at Harare Central Hospital and Parirenyatwa for the past seven months, said on August 16 this year he was called by Inspector Viano at around 8am and told that a retired army general had died at his farm in Beatrice.
He said they got to Ruzambo Farm at around 9:30am and upon arrival, he saw people gathered outside the house.
Dr Aguero-Gonzalez said he was introduced to some policemen before he went to the spot where the remains of Gen Mujuru were in the company of Insp Viano who acted as an interpreter.
"We found the body was completely carbonised and burnt, it was partially covered with a cloth and we removed it completely.
"We found that the body was lying with the face looking downwards, part of the hand was under his chest and legs were spread apart," he said.
The expert said they tried to move the remains, but they were badly burnt and they realised that some of the parts were shifting.
"Taking into account the state of the body we decided that it should be carried to a place where an examination would be carried properly.
"I instructed them (police) to carry the body, ash and anything around it and in such a way that they did not disturb it," he said.
Asked what he meant by appropriate place by Mrs Sharon Fero of the Attorney-General's Office, he said the mortuary.
He said he did not state any specific place, but "we discussed that the body be taken to Parirenyatwa but taking into account the person (Gen Mujuru) they agreed that he be taken to a place where there were no other bodies".
The doctor said he was told that Gen Mujuru was to be taken to One Commando Barracks, which was a quiet place because it was a military place.
He said he accompanied the remains to One Commando Barracks.
The pathologist said they waited for some time for the mortuary to be adjusted into suitable conditions and their first challenge was that there were no instruments to examine the remains.
"Insp Viano went to Parirenyatwa and brought some tools we wanted," he said.
He said the tools were not adequate, but this could not affect the examination.
"We started by looking at the skull and observed that parts of the skull had broken due to the intensity of the heat. We did not see anything that was not normal on the skull, on the chest and abdomen it looked like the skins were open as a result of the fire," he said.
Dr Aguero-Gonzalez said some parts which include the walls of the abdomen were missing.
Asked if he established what happened, he said considering the way he found the body, he suspected that they might have been burnt.
He said the internal anatomy of the body was burnt and they could not find them.
Dr Aguero-Gonzalez said the body was stiff, but there was no indication that it was hurt.
Asked if it was possible to detect injuries with the state of the body, he said it was difficult but not impossible.
The doctor said some parts of the body were burnt to ashes.
He said there was carbon in the trachea, which was black and also dark blood and they cleaned the trachea to find out what it looked like without the carbon.
They also looked at the lungs and saw that they were badly burnt.
He said the presence of carbon monoxide in the trachea showed the General was alive when the fire started and he inhaled the carbon monoxide.
He said the stomach was burnt and destroyed while the teeth were affected by the fire and became fragile.
The pathologist said the aesophagus was destroyed by the fire.
Asked what the cause of death was, he said: "We concluded that death was caused by inhaling gases after fire broke out."
He said the type of gas inhaled was carbon monoxide.
"We could not establish completely that the inhalation of gases is the main cause of death because we did not have sufficient tools to come to that conclusion.
"We are taking into consideration that we were not able to study blood samples given the state of the body," he said.
He said if the quantity of carbon monoxide was not high, a person could be intoxicated or become unconscious but if it is high a person dies.
Asked by Mr Kewada if he was a registered medical practitioner in Zimbabwe, Dr Ageuro-Gonzalez said he was part of the Cuban medical brigade serving in the country.
He contended that they carried out a proper post-mortem.
However, he said an X-ray was one of the things to be carried out in an autopsy but it was not possible for him to carry out one because they did not have the equipment.
Mr Kewada suggested to him that a proper autopsy is carried out by removing body parts and examining each part individually and he said it was inconvenient in the case given the state of the body.
The Cuban doctor said they did not cut the skull because it would break into pieces.
Asked how he was going to see internal injuries if they did not open the skull, he said there could not be such injuries in the absence of external ones.
He said the brain was damaged by the fire hence he could not examine it.
The pathologist conceded that he saw a ring on Gen Mujuru's left finger, but he does not know what happened to it.
He said they could not remove teeth to check for DNA because they were fragile as a result of heat and it was not necessary at the time since everyone was convinced that the body was that of Gen Mujuru.
He said they later took the samples after doubts emerged.
Asked how he could tell that Gen Mujuru was alive when fire broke out he responded: "How then did he inhale the carbon monoxide."
He said he concluded that it was carbon monoxide because of the colouring that was a product of incomplete combustion when quizzed how he reached the conclusion.
Quizzed further, he said that he was not saying that death was caused by the inhalation of carbon monoxide, but it was a vital point.
He said there was, however, no doubt that Gen Mujuru inhaled carbon monoxide.
Mr Kewada suggested that his expert (Dr Perumel) disagrees that there was no blood to test for the presence of carbon monoxide.
Dr Ageuro-Gonzalez said the blood was contaminated.
Mr Kewada also suggested that Dr Perumel said it was not possible for the stomach to be destroyed considering that the General was lying facing downwards.
He also suggested that it was not possible because the carpet beneath was protected.
Dr Ageuro-Gonzalez said the intestines got out and were burnt and the kidneys were burnt, an assertion doubted by Mr Perumel who said kidneys are found in a protected area.
Mr Kewada said Dr Perumel feels the post-mortem was not properly conducted and the cause of death could not be ascertained in the absence of an X-ray, skeleton structure and brain examinations.
He said the doctor should have differentiated between injuries and heat by separating muscles from bones, adding that he could tell whether there were gunshots or wounds.
"The conclusion is my expert feels that the autopsy was not adequately and professionally done," he said.
The Cuban doctor maintained the autopsy was professionally done.
Mr Kewada submitted that if his expert was to give meaningful evidence, the body has to be exhumed but presiding magistrate, Mr Walter Chikwanha said exhumation had nothing to do with the inquest.
Mr Chikwanha said he needed to go through Dr Perumel's statement before he makes a decision to call him as a witness.
Mr Clemence Chimbare of the AG's Office said Vice President Joice Mujuru was the outstanding witness before agreeing that her evidence be accepted as part of the docket without her testifying.
Mr Chikwanha deferred the proceedings to Monday when he is expected to rule on whether or not to call Dr Perumel.