INTENSE jostling for the vice-presidency has erupted among Zanu PF heavyweights at a time Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga is battling for his life at a top Chinese hospital.
ANDREW KUNAMBURA/ TINASHE KAIRIZA
This comes as it emerged that Chiwenga spent a week in the intensive care unit (ICU) of the Beijing hospital before he was put on specialist treatment for an undisclosed illness under heavy security.
Although the official government position is that he is stable and on the recovery path, sources said his condition is still critical although he has shown signs of improvement.
Sources said he can now watch television and read.
Chiwenga was flown to the Chinese capital last month in a very serious condition, government officials revealed.
Zanu PF insiders told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that Chiwenga’s health woes have ignited frenzied jostling for his seat, with Zanu PF national chairperson Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri emerging as the front-runner.
Muchinguri-Kashiri appears to be the overwhelming favourite for the position as she reportedly enjoys support from President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Mnangagwa wanted to appoint Muchinguri-Kashiri as one of his deputies soon after the November 2017 military coup which ended former president Robert Mugabe’s 37-year rule, but the military demanded that the position be given to Chiwenga, who also at the time insisted on being in charge of the influential Defence and War Veterans portfolios.
“She is trusted by ED because of her unwavering loyalty. She has been in cabinet for a long time. She also has impeccable liberation war credentials which make her the ultimate favourite. Her other advantage seems to be that women in the party have been clamouring for a position in the top three and, being in the presidium already, she is very much set for it,” a Zanu PF official said.
However, Muchinguri-Kashiri is facing fierce competition from Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa, who is also thought to be interested in the top job and is being propped up by her belligerent husband, Chris.
Mutsvangwa also boasts of the same liberation war credentials as Muchinguri-Kashiri and fits perfectly into the emerging gender narrative.
Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander Lieutenant-General Valerio Sibanda’s name has also been mentioned, although he is considered a rank outsider.
His biggest challenge is that he has Zapu/Zipra roots along with the other Vice-President Kembo Mohadi.
Sibanda’s other challenge, according to senior Zanu PF officials, is that he comes from Midlands province like Mnangagwa and his appointment would thus upset the delicate ethnic balancing imperative, which is a big factor in Zanu PF politics.
Public service minister Prisca Mupfumira was also in the picture before her arrest, detention and subsequent dismissal over corruption charges yesterday.
According to a senior government official, Chiwenga is receiving treatment at a top hospital in a security zone.
“He was flown to China in a very bad state at the request of the Government of Zimbabwe. He was directly transferred to hospital soon after landing. He is at one of the best and top medical institutions where extensive tests have been done,” the government official said.
“He went there with some of his aides and members of his security team. At the moment the Chinese government is regularly updating the Government of Zimbabwe through direct communication between President Xi Jinping and President Mnangagwa as well as through the Chinese Embassy.
“The Chinese government has told President Mnangagwa that Beijing will do its best, although there are no assurances. He was in ICU for some time and had lost weight, but he has improved. He can now read, watch television, as well as do light exercises.”
The official also said Mnangagwa briefed cabinet about Chiwenga’s health on Tuesday last week.
“President Mnangagwa updated us at the start of the cabinet meeting on Tuesday last week on the status of Vice-President Chiwenga. This followed his telephone conversation with President Xi. The President informed cabinet that Chiwenga was admitted in the ICU for a week before he was discharged on Monday (June 29, 2019),” the official said.
“He also told us that the Vice-President’s condition remains critical at the moment but it was hoped that there could be an improvement once they start the treatment regime.
“He (Mnangagwa) told us that there is tight security at the hospital where Chiwenga is receiving treatment. It is heavily fortified.”
In a statement on Tuesday, Mnangagwa said the Chinese medical experts had completed extensive tests on Chiwenga and are now beginning treatment, describing the condition of the former military strongman who led the coup which toppled former president Robert Mugabe and gave rise to Mnangagwa as “remarkably stable”.
“Further to my communication last month updating the nation on the condition of our Vice President, Dr CGDN Chiwenga, I wish to add that the Vice President has now completed extensive tests required by the Chinese medical team attending to him, thus paving way for the commencement of actual treatment,” Mnangagwa said.
“While it is too early in the treatment process, I am advised that the vice president’s conditions remains remarkably stable, with the initial strict regimen imposed on him at the time of his admission being gradually eased to allow greater access by close family members.”