Former military chief General Solomon Mujuru, one of Zimbabwe's main political power brokers and the husband of the vice president, has died in a fire at one of his homes, the nation's army commander has said.
The 62-year-old's death is likely to intensify turmoil in Robert Mugabe's party over the question of who will succeed the president.
Mujuru's wife, Joice Mujuru, leads a powerful faction in 87-year-old Mugabe's party and counted on the support of her husband, who still commanded loyalty in the military after heading it for more than a decade after independence in 1980.
The general retired to go into business and acquired an empire of farms, properties, mines and other interests that made him one of wealthiest and most influential political figures in the top echelons of Mugabe's party and its policymaking politburo.
The vice president and her supporters in the party are chief rivals to defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa and his followers, who have been vying for supremacy in the party should the ailing president die or retire.
General Constantine Chiwenga, the current military chief, told state radio he had visited a farm some 35 miles south west of Harare where Mujuru died during the night after the farmhouse caught fire. Family members and friends said earlier that an electrical fault may have ignited the blaze.
"The way he has gone is difficult to comprehend. He was such a fine fighter," Chiwenga said of the former guerrilla leader who helped sweep Mugabe into power at independence in 1980.
State radio said Mujuru's wife also visited the farm, where its reporter saw the building razed to the ground and police said Mujuru's body was "burned beyond recognition".
Police said a worker at the house told them Mujuru went to bed and neighbours were awakened later as fire swept through the house, state radio reported. Police told state radio that Mujuru had evidently tried to escape but was overwhelmed by flames and smoke.
Mugabe has acknowledged deep divisions in his party and has said he cannot leave office until he has resolved them ahead of elections. He wants a vote to end a shaky coalition with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, his long-term opponent.