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Just days after Zanele was laid to rest in Harare, the Higher and Tertiary Education Minister’s family has been plunged into fresh agony following the disclosure. A crack team of Zimbabwean detectives probing the student’s death last month in Cape Town broke the news to the minister and his family last week following a second post-mortem conducted in Harare.
President Mugabe and Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko have called for an urgent and thorough investigation into the 20-year-old’s tragic death. Sources close to the investigation say the family is “extremely distressed” by the findings of Dr Gabriel Alviero Gonzalez and Dr Tsungai Victor Javangwe, both forensic pathologists at Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare, who conducted a post-mortem examination of Zanele’s body on October 22.
The post-mortem, conducted at the insistence of the family which suspects foul play in Zanele’s death, was the second following another conducted by Dr Sipho Mfolozi at the Salt River Forensic Pathology Laboratory in Cape Town on October 19.
Zimbabwean investigators now believe Zanele’s heart was removed by pathologists during the autopsy in Cape Town and never placed back inside her body before it was released to her family. Zanele’s body was found lying face-down in the bathroom of her third floor Cape Town apartment on October 17.
She was buried at Glen Forest Memorial Park in Harare on October 23, but the family was only told of the discovery of the missing heart days later after Dr Gonzalez and Dr Javangwe handed their findings to the Criminal Investigations Department, which is leading the Zimbabwe investigation.
Salt River Forensic Pathology Laboratory manager Wayne Mitten declined to comment, after earlier requesting questions to be sent to him through e-mail.
Constable Noloyiso Rwexana, a spokesperson for Western Cape Police, responding to e-mailed questions over their investigation into Zanele’s death, said: “Kindly be advised that this office is not in a position to give you a comment at this stage as the investigation is yet to be finalised.”
Zimbabwe’s national police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba said: “It must be understood that the investigation into Zanele’s death is being conducted by South African police. We don’t have extra territorial jurisdiction but what we’re doing is to assist our colleagues in South Africa. They’re best positioned to comment on the issues you’re raising.”
Zimbabwean investigators have ordered rape, toxicology, histology as well as alcohol and drug tests from samples obtained from Zanele’s body during the second post-mortem in their bid to establish what caused her death. Zanele’s missing heart has disturbed seasoned doctors who described it as “unheard of”.
Dr Solwayo Ngwenya, the clinical director at Mpilo Central Hospital in Bulawayo, said: “I’ve never heard of a whole body part that is removed and not placed back.
“The only time that a whole body part is removed and not taken back is when it’s used for teaching purposes or for organ donation and of course this is always done with the consent of relatives of the dead person.”
Dr Solwayo, who has been practising for 19 years, explained that when a post-mortem examination is carried out, small amounts of tissue samples are taken from body parts such as the brain, liver, heart, kidney and bowels.”The tiny samples are put in a small container with water and taken to the lab for the autopsy. It’s almost impossible to see that any body part has been tampered with because the tissue samples are tiny. Every body part should be just as it was before the examination,” he said.
Prof Moyo declined to comment, but family friend Philip Chiyangwa said: “We can’t wrap our heads around what has just happened. We’re still trying to unravel what killed Zanele, and now we must worry about who took her heart and for what reason?”
He said they were battling with several possible scenarios, including negligence by the Salt River Laboratory, an attempt to conceal evidence or even witchcraft.
Described by her sister, Lungile, as a “very happy person who loved to make people laugh” and “very wise for her age”, Zanele was a second-year student at the University of Cape Town and lived off campus. Her friend Nicole Bento last saw her on Wednesday, October 14, at her apartment.
She was in the company of a Zambian man, Stephen Kenneth Newman Chitobolo (29). Nicole has told investigators that Chitobolo – whom she had earlier observed smoking cannabis – called her at about 9pm on that same day and said Zanele was “passing out”. He claimed he was leaving for Zambia because his father had died.
Nicole, a high school friend of Zanele’s, was unable to go over to her friend’s apartment because her mother had visited. She tried to reach Zanele on Thursday and Friday without success until Saturday, October 17, when Zanele’s mother, Beatrice, called from Zimbabwe and instructed her to find a locksmith and get inside the apartment.
Zanele’s door had been locked from inside. On finding her, she was dead. The building’s caretaker, it is said, pulled Zanele’s body along the floor leaving a trail of blood smear on the bathroom floor.
A small amount of cannabis was also found in one room. It remains unclear if Cape Town police have been able to interview Chitobolo, who is thought to be the last person to see Zanele alive. Zanele’s family, according to Chiyangwa, believes Chitobolo holds the answers in solving the mystery of her death.
Investigators in Cape Town have, however, told the family that results of toxicology tests can take up to six years – by which time if criminality is established, it could be near impossible to find suspects and witnesses.
The Salt River Laboratory receives between 10 and 15 bodies daily – around 3 300 bodies a year. This explains the inordinate amount of time it takes to get toxicology test results, a state of paralysis that has made Cape Town an attractive destination for “murder tourism”.
Zanele’s family has also expressed concerns with the police investigation in South Africa after they neglected to ask the laboratory to establish the time of death, which resulted in October 17 – the day her body was found – being listed in her death certificate as the day she died. The fact that when her body was found she was dressed in the clothes she was last seen wearing on October 14, according to her family, makes the conclusion that she died on October 17 an absurdity.
Top Harare lawyer Terrence Hussein, who accompanied Prof Moyo to Cape Town to bring Zanele’s body home, said last week: “It would’ve been better to ascertain [the time of death] scientifically. It gives you an accurate picture of what took place and also when connecting individuals to a scene.
“Now, if you want to question people they can simply escape by saying they weren’t there when Zanele died. You literally immunise all suspects, you give a defence. It’s inconsistent with the strict requirements of a criminal investigation, which this one is.”