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Zimbabwe's VP Emmerson Mnangagwa Hospitalized in South Africa

Vice President-Elect Emmerson Mnangagwa, widely expected to succeed President Mugabe as Zimbabwe's next leader. (Collage by Ntungamili Nkomo)

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a possible successor to 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe, is recovering in a South African hospital after he fell ill and was airlifted from Zimbabwe.

Mnangagwa, 74, was absent from celebrations on Monday to mark Heroes Day in the capital Harare.

"He is not back yet from hospital in Johannesburg," Mugabe said during his speech at the national Heroes Acre, announcing that Mnangagwa was unwell. He did not give details.

Health Minister David Parirenyatwa told reporters after the speech that Mnangagwa was feeling "much better". Asked whether Mnangagwa would be discharged soon, he said "yes, he is well, I spoke to him this morning."

Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko are Mugabe's vice presidents in the ruling ZANU-PF party and government but the former is seen as the likely successor following elevation to the post in 2014.

The issue of who will succeed Mugabe has deeply divided the ruling party into two factions -- one supporting Mnangagwa, the other Mugabe's wife Grace.

Parirenyatwa said Mnangagwa had severe vomiting and diarrhea and several tests had been conducted in Zimbabwe before he was airlifted to South Africa, which has better medical facilities.

"He preferred to go there for his doctors. Some of his doctors are in South Africa, so we sent him there," he said.

Local private media reported that Mnangagwa had suffered suspected food poisoning.

Nicknamed "Crocodile" in the Shona language, Mnangagwa was appointed after the sacking of Joice Mujuru, who had held the position for 10 years.

Mujuru has since formed an opposition party, the National People’s Party, which is expected to team up with several others in the run up to the 2018 general elections in an attempt to unseat President Mugabe’s Zanu PF party.

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