Charles Kuwaza headed the State Procurement Board (SPB) for 15 years from 2000. Close to mid-day last Tuesday, news broke that he had plunged from the ninth floor of Club Chambers in the capital and was discovered dead by eye witnesses and paramaedics. He was buried on Friday as the world awaited results of an autopsy.
corruptionwatch WITH TAWANDA MAJONI
Kuwaza was facing a multi-million dollar corruption court case. He was arrested in March this year and fell critically ill after being taken in.
He was out on $2 000 bail and, on the day of the unfortunate incident, is reported to have gone to his office to collect crucial documents that his lawyer, Shadreck Chisoko wanted to use.
Chisoko, in fact, thought that the State had a weak case against his client.
Two narratives emerged after Kuwaza’s death. The state media, which officially broke the news, concluded that he had committed suicide by leaping to his death.
Naughty online, and later serious independent media reports, speculated that Kuwaza had been pushed to his death by yet unidentified assassins.
As we wait for the results of a postmortem, which will not necessarily offer conclusive evidence of what actually happened, a big question lingers: Did he commit suicide or he was assassinated?
Psychologists and sociologists have identified a whole array of factors that drive the risk of suicidal tendencies.
These factors entail peculiar individual dispositions as well as community and personal relationships and contexts.
History of family suicides, childhood upbringing, one’s mental state, abuse of substances and feelings of hopelessness are some of such risks. They also include a person’s tendency towards impulsive behavior, isolation from people, physical illness and job-related, financial and relational losses, among others.
None of the media has definitively explained why they inferred that Kuwaza’s death was an act of suicide, leaving everything to conjecture.
But they seem to have assumed that it could only be suicide because Kuwaza was facing a humiliating and taxing trial.
Come to think of it, almost everyone has bought the story that he fell from the ninth floor, even though no-one saw him falling from there.
Witnesses have said they only heard a thud when his body hit the tarmac. I am thinking aloud, but the fact that he had gone to the ninth floor of Club Chambers where his office is does not necessarily tell us that is where he fell from.
The pro-suicide theorists may have a point. The trial could have taken a toll on Kuwaza, to the extent of him contemplating and executing suicide. There is an anecdote to support this.
The ex-SPB boss had his contract terminated in 2015 by the people he might have thought were on his side. He was locked in a bitter wrangle with the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) and the SPB which were forcing him to return to the state five good cars and a house that he had taken possession of during his 15-year-old tenure.
Kuwaza felt that the insistence that he return the assets before his terminal benefits were availed was plain victimisation. After all, he fell seriously ill immediately after he was arrested.
Having worked as a senior government official before taking up the SPB executive chairmanship, he might have come to assume that no such fate could befall him. That is perfectly human.
That the arrest severely affected him to the extent of being taken ill could indicate a mortal who was failing to cope with the fast pace of adverse developments. The arrest, hospitalisation and the fight with his employer, the OPC, could have converged to push him towards suicide.
He would not be the first high-profile person, as it stands, to commit suicide in the wake of controversial and corruption-related developments.
Maurice Nyagumbo, President Robert Mugabe’s former confidant and a respected nationalist, committed suicide in 1989 by drinking rat poison when he was named in the Willowgate scandal.
Some people have also committed suicide by jumping from high-rise buildings, but I must admit this is rare in Zimbabwe.
Apparently, though, people are more attracted to the pro-assassination “theory” than the pro-suicide one. I picked an argument that tried to link the death to the first family.
Some people have said Kuwaza was close to Mugabe and his wife, Grace. They speculated that his trial had the potential of opening a can of worms and exposing the Mugabes for shady deals they could have done together.
For instance, Derrick Chikore, brother to Bona Mugabe’s husband, Simba, was awarded the Dema diesel power plant tender under controversial circumstances.
At the surface, this argument is appealing. Up to now, many people feel that Derrick was a beneficiary of nepotism, something I will not hastily dismiss.
The first family would want Kuwaza out of the way so as to suppress evidence of their corrupt conduct. However, I think that linking the Mugabes to the suicide is overstretched speculation.
If they wanted to ensure that Kuwaza did not muddy them, they would have done a more comfortable job. Mugabe is the most powerful man on this land and could use his office to block Kuwaza’s trial if he wanted.
Or he could simply get some people to “advise” Kuwaza and prosecution on what to do or say or what not to do or say during trial.
Other theorists like Tendai Biti, the PDP president and a notable lawyer, dismissed the possibility of suicide at the news of Kuwaza’s death.
Biti argued that the former SPB boss could not have brought himself to commit suicide because he was a tough man. Written into his argument is the assumption that suicide is done by cowards.
No doubt, Kuwaza acted tough and talked tough. He took the OPC head on when it wanted to wrest the cars and house from him. He defied the SPB board at one time, telling its members that he was not beholden to them because they had no jurisdiction over his contract.
If toughness is therefore a determining factor in deciding whether or not to commit suicide, then Kuwaza wouldn’t have killed himself.
That would mean he was killed by, at least, another person. This would involve, as some media reports have already pointed out, his assassin or assassins waylaying him, killing him and throwing him out the window for it to look like a suicide.
Hitmen have used this assassination method countless times before. As it were, reports are emerging that there was evidence of a struggle in Kuwaza’s office and traces of blood, meaning that some people could have entered his office and killed him.
I will not quickly dismiss this line of thinking either. It is highly possible that some powerful agents from the security sector were involved in shady deals at the SPB.
They could have colluded with strategic SPB staff in this, and there have been murmurs to this effect. There is a likelihood that these servicemen knew that if the Kuwaza trial proceeded to its full cycle, they would also be fingered, get jailed and lose their sweet jobs.
The best way to forestall that would then be to kill the trial by assassinating Kuwaza. Fresh revelations from the independent media have already thrown weight behind this.
Suspected security operatives reportedly rushed to the scene of the death and are said to have trailed Kuwaza’s widow.
But let’s just assume that Kuwaza, indeed, had become suicidal. Was throwing himself from a high-rise building the most likely method he was going to use?
I would like to think that the man kept a gun, given his high profile. It is an easier job to blow your brains out with a pistol than to leap to your death.
Or he could have used a lethal pesticide as Nyagumbo did. We don’t have too many trains on the rails these days, but that was another easier option.
And, as I have already said, suicide by jumping out is still a rare phenomenon in Zimbabwe. It is also a mystery that he would choose to take his wife along in order to commit suicide. Or had he chosen to die with his wife close by?
Whatever the case, the world may never know how exactly Kuwaza died. Well, if it was an assassination, only a few people will know but keep the knowledge to themselves.
Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT), a non-profit organisation promoting access to information on public and private sector governance, transparency and accountability, and can be contacted on email@example.com.