Page last updated at 10:41 GMT, Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Profile: The Mujuru couple

By Joseph Winter
BBC News

Solomon and Joyce Mujuru are among Zimbabwe's most powerful, wealthiest and feared people - in their own rights and especially as a couple.

Mr Mujuru is a former army chief, often seen as Zimbabwe's "king-maker".

Joyce "Spill Blood" Mujuru
Joyce "Spill Blood" Mujuru has been in the cabinet since 1980
But some say he also has presidential ambitions of his own.

His wife, Joyce Mujuru, is vice-president - the first woman to hold such a high-ranking role in Zimbabwe.

If Mr Mujuru wants to combine power with relative anonymity, he may opt to back his wife for the top job - a scenario which many people would say meant he was really pulling the strings.

But Mrs Mujuru has - wisely - denied having any presidential ambitions.

Under his nom de guerre, Rex Nhongo, Mr Mujuru was the director of Robert Mugabe's guerrilla forces 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.

Following independence, 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.


But he has always kept his senior role in the ruling Zanu-PF party, where true power resides in Zimbabwe.

This could give him some say in how and when Mr Mugabe leaves office.

He leads a very private life
Zanu-PF insider
But despite his long and close ties to Mr Mugabe, the most recent reports from Zimbabwe suggest he has fallen from the president's 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.

He was widely believed to be referring to Mr Mujuru when he said there had been "an insidious dimension where ambitious leaders have been cutting deals with the British and Americans".

"The whole succession debate has given imperialism hope for re-entry. Since when have the British, the Americans, been friends of Zanu-PF?" he asked.

This was a pretty severe put-down for the Mujurus, who come from the same Zezuru branch of Zimbabwe's majority Shona group as Mr Mugabe.

Minister in education

In fact, it might suit Mr Mujuru to remain behind the scenes.

"He leads a very private life," one Zanu-PF insider told the BBC News website.

There are very few photos of him around.

Solomon Mujuru (Photo: 1979)
Solomon Mujuru led the fight against Rhodesian rule
Mrs Mujuru, 53, on the other hand, has remained in cabinet ever since 1980, when she was its youngest member.

She left school at the age of 18 to join the war of independence and adopted the name Teurai Ropa (Spill Blood), before marrying Solomon Mujuru in 1977.

She claims to have shot down a Rhodesian helicopter with the machine-gun of a dying comrade and was later promoted to commander.

After spending her youth fighting the war, she obtained secondary school qualifications and a degree while in government.

Before becoming vice-president, she was best known for blocking a bid to set up Zimbabwe's first mobile phone network in the early 1990s.

This was seen as not only a money-earner but a threat to the government's control of information.

As information minister, she managed to thwart Econet long enough for Telecel, part-owned by her husband, to set up.

She was also one of the biggest beneficiaries of a scheme set up to pay compensation to those injured during the war of independence.

The scheme paid out huge amounts of public money - one of the sparks for Zimbabwe's subsequent economic collapse.

Business interests

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

Guy Watson-Smith has taken Mr Mujuru to court to seek compensation after his farm was invaded by ruling party supporters.

He says the famous couple are living on the 3,500-acre Alamein farm, 45 miles south of Harare.

Mr Watson-Smith says the infrastructure alone was worth some $2.5m.

He won a court order in December 2001 but is still trying to get either the money or the farm.

Emmerson Mnangagwa is the other man seen as a possible Zanu-PF successor to Mr Mugabe.

He and the Mujurus have been business, as well as political, rivals for more than a decade after Mr Mnangagwa blocked Mr Mujuru's bid to take over the huge Zimasco chrome smelting operation.

Mr Mujuru is also a director of the River Ranch mine, which has denied reports of it was trading in illegal "blood diamonds" from DR Congo.

Mrs Mujuru has also been accused of trying to evade international sanctions by using her daughter to sell Congolese gold on her behalf.

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