Former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe 94, bravely opened up about Geneva Hotel Inferno.
In an interview with the Independent newspaper last week, responding to a suggestion that General Solomon Mujuru was killed by the military intelligence he said “No. Ah, he was a terrible guy. Very selfish. And a smoker. A smoker, I think this is what killed him. In Geneva (Switzerland), we burnt down a hotel and it was Mujuru again. Well, we managed to avoid trial, but it was his smoking that almost got us killed in a hotel. He was a careless smoker. An investigation established that the fire started in his room. But we denied it and said no no”
The real story is narrated in a book by Fay Chung , Re-Living the Second Chimurenga. Memories from Zimbabwe’s Liberation Struggle.
“The Geneva conference was marked by a huge fire that engulfed the Royal Hotel, where the ZANU delegation was staying. The fire started in the room of Solomon Mujuru on the fourth floor and soon spread throughout the floor. I was on the third floor. I woke up in the middle of the night with smoke seeping into the room, and when I looked out the window, I saw the hotel was in flames.
My first reaction was that enemy agents had attempted to kill us by torching our hotel. Alternatively, I thought that perhaps the ZIPA hotheads had started the fire. I decided to telephone for the Geneva fire department. I managed to get through immediately, and they informed me that they already knew of the fire and the fire engines were en route. Meanwhile, Meyor Hurimbo was going from door to door checking to see if anyone was still asleep in the middle of the fire. Just as I put down the phone, Hurimbo was at the door warning me to evacuate. Simon Muzenda was also moving from floor to floor by elevator, checking on everyone’s safety. He was
not aware that elevators should not be used during a fire. In the crisis of the fire, Hurimbo and Muzenda’s strong sense of responsibility revealed itself spontaneously. When I looked out of my window, I saw Joe Taderera and Wilfred Mhanda outside, holding a blanket and shouting to me to jump. I had sufficient time to debate with myself whether it was necessary to jump or not. As the fire brigade was already on its way, I estimated that they would arrive within 10 minutes, as Geneva is not a very large city. There was no need for me to jump to save my life. However, I realised that I could perhaps play a more useful role outside. I decided to jump, and landed neatly in the middle of the blanket held by Taderera and Mhanda. They were standing on the roof of the ground floor building, so it was not a very long jump. I discovered that I was the only one with my shoes and coat on. It was the middle of the Swiss winter, and dozens of Zimbabweans were running about outside without shoes and in
I did indeed play an unexpectedly useful role. Taderera andMachingura were now shouting at Robert Mugabe to jump fr om the fourth floor. I realised that from that height he was likely to be seriously
injured if he did jump. Moreover, there was no need for him to jump as his room was far from the fire, and I knew that the fire engines would arrive any minute. I therefore shouted at him not to jump. In the confusion he did not jump, but instead threw down his files. Fortunately the fire engines arrived soon afterwards, bringing some order to the chaos. One of the older members of our delegation, Robert Marere, actually did jump from the fourth floor. One of the bones on his spine suffered a fracture, but he was lucky that his spine was not severed. He
spent some time in a Geneva hospital.
Meanwhile, other members of the delegation had found different solutions. Tongogara and Akim Mudende had locked themselves in the bathroom, closing the cracks with wet towels to prevent smoke entering the room. All of us felt that we had had a narrow escape from death. The question of who had set the hotel on fire occupied us for sometime. Within ZANU it was believed to have been caused by a Smith agent, a young over friendly lady with revolutionary pretensions who had somehow found her way to one of the commander’s rooms. However,
the Swiss authorities firmly asserted that it was an accident caused by someone leaving a cigarette alight. I believe the hotel would not have had insurance coverage if it had been sabotage. The fire had caused extensive damage to two floors of the large multi-storeyed building.”