By MacDonald Dzirutwe
HARARE (Reuters) - A Zimbabwean magistrate has ruled out foul play in the death last August of retired army general Solomon Mujuru, a major player in the contest to succeed ageing President Robert Mugabe.
Mujuru's death led to speculation in the media he had been killed in a political power play that would help Mugabe, who has ruled the destitute country for more than 30 years, and his supporters in his ruling ZANU-PF.
But in a report published on Thursday, magistrate Walter Chikwanha said he could not recommend further investigations following evidence gathered at an inquest in January.
"So many people and even relatives of the deceased believe that there is (something) amiss in the death of the now deceased but from the 41 witnesses who testified, no one was able to point to the court as to the basis of such suspicion and what it is that is amiss," Chikwanha wrote in his report.
"The facts and evidence presented before the court, therefore, do not show that there was foul play and consequently the court concludes that there was no foul play," he said.
Rights activists and Western governments have accused Mugabe's ZANU-PF of controlling the courts. Mugabe has denied this.
Mujuru died on August 16 last year in a fire at his farmhouse in Beatrice, south of Harare.
A fire expert told the inquest the fire could have been caused by arson or an electrical fault, but he could not be certain.
The house had no bars on the windows and the door was unlocked, raising questions as to why Mujuru simply could not have got out when the fire started.
Mujuru, popularly known by his guerrilla name Rex Nhongo, was married to Vice-President Joice Mujuru and deputy head of Mugabe's liberation army ZANLA in the 1970s.
Mujuru headed a ZANU-PF faction that wanted Joice Mujuru to eventually succeed Mugabe as party and state president.
Zimbabwean media reported Mujuru was pressing the 88-year-old Mugabe to retire and his faction had courted Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change party.
Mugabe's succession has divided ZANU-PF but Mugabe himself said in an interview with state media last month he did not plan to quit, adding he did not see anyone in his party capable of taking over.
Mujuru, who helped Mugabe consolidate power in the 1970s, was a backroom political player whose standing was raised when he persuaded Mugabe to back Joice as one of the party vice presidents at a 2004 ZANU-PF congress.
Magistrate Chikwanha said despite "suppositions, speculations, conjectures and suspicions" over Mujuru's death, no supporting evidence was placed before the court.
Attorney General Johannes Tomana told the state-owned Herald that he was instructing the police to close the Mujuru case.
(Editing by Andrew Roche)