Zimbabwe’s Vice President Constantino Chiwenga has been airlifted to a South African hospital in his latest battle with failing health, online tabloid ZimLive.com is reporting.
The former army commander, who turns 63 next month, has not been seen publicly for more than a month, part of which time was spent in India being treated for what associates say is a liver ailment.
Associates now believe Chiwenga was poisoned through potable water delivered to his home.
Two senior government sources said Chiwenga was flown to South Africa on June 23 last month, where he is reported to be in critical condition.
We reached out to the presidency for an official comment, but they had not responded at the time of publication.
“He’s in a major fight for his life, his darkest hour,” one source said, declining to reveal the name of the hospital citing security risks.
On his previous hospitalisation in South Africa, protesters besieged a Cape Town hospital demanding that he returns home to be treated there. Chiwenga had, in the weeks prior, threatened to fire doctors and nurses striking over poor pay and lack of basic medical equipment and sundries.
Chiwenga was flown to India by private jet on May 18, and did not return to Zimbabwe until June 9.
Upon his return, sources say he ordered a borehole to be sunk at his Borrowdale home which, because of its hilltop location has low water pressure. Previously, water bowsers brought water to fill tanks at the property while bottled water was delivered for drinking.
“He has told those closest to him that he believes he was poisoned through water delivered to his home. He wanted a borehole sunk quite quickly. It was a herculean job, but they did find water at a depth of over 220 meters,” another source briefed on the development said.
Following previous hospital visits, Chiwenga has been shown on state media either arriving at the airport or he has been put in front of cameras to dispel reports of poor health, including one performance in February when he returned from a trip to India.
The ZBC reported at the time: “The sturdy health status of Dr Chiwenga contradicts a lie that had been sold out that all is not well in government and the ruling Zanu PF party.”
Sources say there is good reason why Chiwenga shunned public appearances following his recent lengthy treatment in India.
“He’s unrecognisable,” said one official.
Zimbabweans reacted with surprise on June 18 when, leaving for Mozambique, Mnangagwa named Chiwenga as acting president even when the Vice President was badly indisposed. Chiwenga was not at the airport to see off Mnangagwa, an old Zanu PF ritual. Instead, defence minister Oppah Muchinguri was the de facto acting president with the other vice president Kembo Mohadi also out of the country at the time, seeking treatment for an undisclosed ailment.
Chiwenga was again not at the airport when Mnangagwa returned on June 20, with Muchinguri the most high-ranking government official to welcome him.
Chiwenga led a military coup that ousted former President Robert Mugabe in November 2017, and was instrumental in installing Mnangagwa as president but the two men are said to have had a falling out, creating two factions in the ruling Zanu PF party.
By maintaining close links with the powerful military, Chiwenga has kept himself in play to challenge Mnangagwa for the presidency but failing health has become his greatest opponent. In Chiwenga’s medical absence, Mnangagwa has purged his rival’s loyalists including in the military as he consolidates his hold on power.
A security analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals told one publication that poisoning would be the only way to get to the well-protected Chiwenga. “Chiwenga is under heavy military protection and it would not be possible to get to him in any other way except poison. If you look at the White City bombing which targeted Mnangagwa, it is pretty clear that there is a group of very powerful people who are capable of anything so the poisoning theory is quite plausible especially because both husband and wife are unwell,” he said.