By Owen Gagare
Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, currently recovering at a top hospital in China, where he underwent two operations to clear his blocked oesophagus, amid poisoning fears, last month dismissed security officials attached to him fearing they were spying on him and giving his political rivals information on his recovery bid.
Chiwenga, who swopped his military fatigues for political office after leading a military coup which toppled former president Robert Mugabe in 2017, leading to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s rise to the seat of power, dismissed all security aides from the Central Intelligence Organisation attached to him.
“He remained with two security aides by the name Ncube and Kadengu, who are from the military,” a state security official revealed.
The Zimbabwe Independent’s security sources said Chiwenga did not feel secure under the watch of CIO operatives he was not close to.
“Besides, he also believed they were giving updates to his political rivals, including Mnangagwa about his progress,” an official said.
Chiwenga was airlifted to Beijing from South Africa in July at a time he was wasted, bed-ridden and in critical condition. 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.
The former army general underwent a major operation to clear part of his oesophagus in August, before undergoing another operation last 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.
Family sources say Chiwenga is recovering and is now able to walk. He has also gained weight and is weighing around 80 kilograms having been flown to China when he was weighing 50kgs.
Chiwenga is expected to remain in China for several months. He is surrounded by several family members, including his son, although his wife Mary is in Zimbabwe.
Chiwenga’s close associates say he was poisoned by his political rivals, although the vice-president has not revealed the cause of his ailment.
Zanu PF insiders told the Independent in August 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.
Although Mnangagwa and Chiwenga were allies ahead of the coup, they fell out soon after Mnangagwa assumed the reins as they battled to control heart and soul of Zanu PF.
Before last year’s elections, Mnangagwa publicly spoke about an inside plot to impeach him.Mnangagwa also spoke about an attempted assassination after an explosion at a rally at White City Stadium in Bulawayo which killed two security aides and injured many other people in June 2018.
Insiders say initially, the coup deal was that Mnangagwa would come in as a civilian face and serve one term and go, leaving power to Chiwenga.
However, Mnangagwa’s repeated talk of two terms soon after assuming power widened the rift between the two.
Soon after the coup, differences between the two also emerged around several issues including the transitional arrangement, critical appointments, and dismissals, especially in the security sector, business deals and the direction of the administration.
Mnangagwa preferred to appoint Oppah Muchinguri as vice-president but Chiwenga insisted that the job should be given to him. He also seized the responsibilities of defence and war veterans from co-vice-president Kembo Mohadi, while Mnangagwa took security amid fears his deputy would become too powerful.
Mnangagwa also preferred to appoint war veteran Victor Matemadanda as political commissar but the army insisted that the job be given to Major General Engelbert Rugeje – one of those that traded military fatigues for civilian suits.