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Solomon Mujuru: Obituary of a Zimbabwean 'king-maker'

image captionThere are few photos of Solomon Mujuru

Solomon Mujuru, who has died in a fire on his farm, was one of Zimbabwe's most powerful, wealthiest and feared politicians.

As a former army chief he was nicknamed Zimbabwe's "king-maker" - and managed to combine power with relative anonymity.

There are very few photos of him around.

"He had all the mystique of a liberation war hero that has served him to present-day politics," Patrick Smith, editor of the London-based Africa Confidential magazine, told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

"He didn't want to be president but he was incredibly influential in determining the jockeying for power within the hierarchy of the ruling party."

Knox Chitiyo, an analyst with the London-based think-tank Royal United Services Institute who knew Gen Mujuru personally, said he was someone "who couldn't be pushed around".

"He was very, very respected particularly among the military in Zimbabwe and among the liberation war veterans. His liberation war credentials were pretty impeccable," he told the BBC.

Gen Mujuru's wife, Joice Mujuru, is one of Zimbabwe's vice-presidents - the first woman to hold such a high-ranking post in Zimbabwe.

Under his nom de guerre, Rex Nhongo, Mr Mujuru was the director of Robert Mugabe's guerrilla forces, together with the late Josiah Tongogora, during the 1970s war of independence, which ended white minority rule.

He is also said to have played a key role in Mr Mugabe's rise to the top of the Zanu party.

'Fragmentation of Zanu-PF'

Following independence in 1980, he carried on doing pretty much the same job - as army chief, becoming a general.

He was also elected MP for the north-eastern Chikomba constituency, before leaving public life in 1995 to concentrate on his business interests.

According to Mr Smith, his influence, despite not holding a political post, testifies to the strength of the military tradition in Zanu-PF politics.

Some believe his death will be a blow to the party.

John Makumbe, political analyst at the University of Zimbabwe, says Mr Mugabe "used to rely on him on what to do and what not to do".

"The nation has lost a pillar and there is likely to be more fragmentation in Zanu-PF," he told the AFP new agency.

The Mujurus are from the same Zezuru branch of Zimbabwe's majority Shona group as Mr Mugabe.

But despite his long and close ties to Mr Mugabe, there were reports two years ago that he may have fallen from grace after apparently meeting top US and UK diplomats in Harare.

Mr Mugabe has always portrayed himself as still fighting the colonial struggle - against the West.

But Gen Mujuru's death now brings into question who will succeed the 87-year-old president within the party.

Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa is seen as a possible Zanu-PF successor - and there has always been fierce rivalry between him and the Mujurus.

"The demise of Mujuru would appear to give some advantage to the Mnangagwa faction," Mr Smith said.

"Until now she [Joice Mujuru] has been a beneficiary of her husband's influence in the party, army and security services. Now she'll have to put herself forward much more strongly," he said.

The Mujurus met during the war of independence and married in 1977.

She adopted the name Teurai Ropa (Spill Blood), during the struggle and claims to have shot down a Rhodesian helicopter with the machine-gun of a dying comrade and was later promoted to commander.

The Mujurus are accused of taking over at least one of the farms seized from their white owners in recent years.

Guy Watson-Smith owned 3,500-acre Alamein farm, about 80km (50 miles) south of the capital, Harare, where Gen Mujuru died in the early hours of Tuesday 16 August.

Mr Watson-Smith said the infrastructure alone was worth some $2.5m (£1.5m).