VICE-PRESIDENT Constantino Chiwenga (pictured), who was airlifted to China from South Africa in July amid poisoning fears — is now firmly on the recovery path — and wanted to attend former president Robert Mugabe’s funeral service on September 14, but was advised against the move by his medical team and family members.
Mugabe will be buried in Zvimba this weekend after his family stuck to their guns and decided to honour his last wish in defiance of pressure from President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government which wanted him interred at the National Heroes Acre.
The government, which initially threatened to decline giving the family a burial order, finally relented to the family’s persistence, paving way for the burial to take place.
Chiwenga will miss the burial as he is still in China, where he is receiving treatment.
The retired general underwent a successful second life-saving operation at a top Beijing hospital this month, government, family and close associates confirmed.
The Zimbabwe Independent understands that Chiwenga, who was wasted, bedridden and in a critical condition when he was airlifted to Beijing, is now able to walk and do light exercises.
Chiwenga underwent a major operation to clear part of his oesophagus last month, before undergoing another operation this month.
The oesophagus is a muscular tube which connects the mouth to the stomach. When swallowing food, the walls of the oesophagus contract, enabling food to move to the stomach.
Because of the blockage, officials revealed, Chiwenga was unable to eat, resulting in him becoming emaciated due to illness and lack of food.
He was rushed to hospital on landing where he was admitted in the intensive care unit of a state-of-the-art hospital in a high security area before being moved to a private ward, security sources said.
Officials said that after intensive tests and intensive intravenous feeding — getting nutrition into the body via veins — Chiwenga was deemed strong enough to undergo an initial operation to clear his oesophagus.The operation was successful, paving way for the second procedure, which was also a success.
“The operations were very successful and he is in a better condition although he will stay in Beijing for several months. He still can’t eat solid food but is now able to take liquids like water. There has been a massive improvement. He has also gained weight and is now weighing about 80 kilogrammes from about 50kgs when he was taken to China,” a family member revealed.
“He is also now able to walk, which is very positive. He is now surrounded by several family members, including his son.”
Government and family members also revealed that Chiwenga wanted to attend former president Robert Mugabe’s funeral but was advised against it by his medical team, family and government officials. Mugabe died in Singapore on September 6.
“He will now remain in China for several more months and will come when he is in a better condition,” a government official said.
Family members say Chiwenga has used his time in China to meet friends and read.
When Chiwenga arrived in China, he was initially too weak and vulnerable for an operation and had to go through intensive feeding for him to gain strength.
Chiwenga’s close associates say he was poisoned by his political rivals, although the vice-president has not revealed the cause of his ailment.
However, in May last year, while speaking at the burial of his sister, Margaret Machekabuwe in Marondera, Chiwenga said he fell ill during Operation Restore Legacy.
Operation Restore Legacy was the code name for the military coup which toppled Robert Mugabe from power in November 2017, resulting in Emmerson Mnangagwa rising to the presidency.
In its initial stages, the illness caused Chiwenga’s skin to turn lighter in complexion, resulting in speculation that he was using skin-lightening creams and might have skin cancer.
Chiwenga, however, said his new light complexion was a result of a rare disease that attacked him.“Let me say this since the media are here. During Operation Restore Legacy, I was with General (Phillip Valerio) Sibanda (Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) commander), he is a great man as you see him, I also called (Police Commissioner-General Godwin) Matanga (to the meeting). Unfortunately, I fell very sick, while in their company,” he said.
“This is what caused my sickness to the extent of having a light skin. I was affected all over the body, and the papers said I am applying a skin-lightening cream.”
Chiwenga was flown to China at the request of the government of Zimbabwe. He was accompanied by some aides and members of his security team.
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.
Officials say the Chinese government has told Mnangagwa that Beijing will do its best to ensure Chiwenga recovers, without giving any assurances. Beijing is now upbeat about Chiwenga’s prospects.
Zanu PF insiders told the Independent last month 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. At the time many Zanu PF officials were convinced the former military general would not survive.
Muchinguri-Kashiri appeared to be the overwhelming favourite for the position as she reportedly enjoys support from President Mnangagwa.
Mnangagwa wanted to appoint Muchinguri-Kashiri as one of his deputies soon after the coup which ended 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 Mnangagwa 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 was 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.
ZDF 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 the Midlands province like Mnangagwa and his appointment would thus upset the delicate ethnic balancing imperative, a big factor in Zanu PF politics.