By Owen Gagare
Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, who was airlifted to China from South Africa in July amid poisoning fears, is preparing to return home after making a remarkable recovery at a top hospital in Beijing, where he underwent two life-saving operations.
The vice-president is expected back in Zimbabwe either at the end of the month or at the beginning of December.A sickly and emaciated Chiwenga was rushed to Beijing at a time many government and family members had lost hope that he would recover, prompting a scramble for his position among senior Zanu PF and government officials.
Family, government, military officials and an official resident in Beijing told the Zimbabwe Independent that the former army general is now fit enough to fly back home although he has not fully recovered.
“He is now in very good shape. Remember, when he was airlifted to China he was in a terrible state and was severely emancipated. He was weighing 55 kilogrammes and could not eat, but he is now weighing about 90kgs,” an official said.
“We cannot say he is 100% fit because he is still receiving medical care in hospital. But the progress has been quite amazing.”When he went to China, he could not eat because his oesophagus was blocked, but now he is able to eat on his own. He can even eat meat now. His voice is also now sharp and loud, but when he went to China, his words were hardly audible
“If all goes well, he will be coming at the end of this month or at the beginning of December.”Chiwenga underwent two delicate operations to clear part of his oesophagus which was blocked. 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 down 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 flown to Beijing in bad condition and was rushed to hospital on landing. Chiwenga was admitted to the intensive care unit of a state-of-the-art hospital in a high security area before being moved to a private ward, where he is still admitted.
After intensive tests, doctors determined Chiwenga should undergo a critical operation. He was, however, deemed too weak for the procedure, prompting doctors to put him on intensive intravenous feeding — to nourish his body through the veins.
Officials revealed the former military commander could not undergo the entire procedure because of his condition, hence the decision to ensure that he gets time to recover before being subjected to another operation.
“Both operations went very well and he and those around him are pleased with the Chinese medical team as well as the care and hospitality he has been receiving. Although he is in hospital, the Chinese have made sure that he is very comfortable and has everything that he needs in a very private suite. His aides are also very well-catered for,” a Beijing-based official said.
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 — the coup which ousted Robert Mugabe.
Operation Restore Legacy was the code name for the military coup which toppled Mugabe in November 2017, resulting in President 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 the result of a rare disease that afflicted him.”Let me say this since the media are here. During Operation Restore Legacy, I was with General (Phillip Valerio) Sibanda (Zimbabwe Defence Forces 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 after similar trips to India and South Africa failed to yield results.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.
Chiwenga’s health woes had ignited frenzied jostling for his seat, with Zanu PF national chairperson Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri emerging as the front-runner.
Some Zanu PF heavyweights were also pushing for Chiwenga’s ouster using Section 97 of the constitution which provides for the removal of a vice-president on incapacitation grounds. Muchinguri-Kashiri appeared to be the overwhelming favourite for the position as she enjoyed support from Mnangagwa.
Mnangagwa wanted to appoint Muchinguri-Kashiri as one of his deputies soon after the coup, which ended former president Robert Mugabe’s 37-year rule, but the military demanded that the position be given to Chiwenga who, at the time, insisted on being in charge of the influential Defence and War Veterans portfolios.
However, Muchinguri-Kashiri was facing fierce competition from Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa, who was propped up by her belligerent husband, Chris.
Mutsvangwa also boasts similar liberation war credentials as Muchinguri-Kashiri and fits perfectly into the emerging gender narrative.
Before her arrest on corruption allegations, former tourism minister Prisca Mupfumira was also in the race. ZDF commander Lieutenant-General Sibanda’s name was also mentioned, although he was 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.