Zimbabwe’s 63-year-old former army general, Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, returned home Saturday looking healthier than when he left for medical treatment in China four months ago.
China’s deputy ambassador to Zimbabwe, Zhao Baogang, and relatives welcomed Chiwenga when he arrived at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport in a charted Chinese plane, sparking suggestions of a rift between him and President Emmerson Mnangagwa, whom he assisted in toppling former President Robert Mugabe.
The state-controlled Herald newspaper showed images of the vice president arriving at the airport under tight security, hugging some people identified as his son, Tawanda, and brother, Onisimo, before shaking hands with Zhao Baogang. State officials, his wife, Mary, and Zanu PF activists were not at the airport.
The Sunday Mail, another state-controlled newspaper, reported that Chiwenga and Mnangagwa met Saturday for almost two hours at the former army general’s home in Harare and discussed his illness, recovery and work-related issues.
Some details of the meeting were not disclosed to the press. Chiwenga and other state officials were unreachable for comment.
The opposition MDC led by Nelson Chamisa says reports of a rift between Chiwenga and Mnangagwa are concerning. Party chairperson Thabitha Khumalo told VOA Zimbabwe Service that suggestions of a conflict between the two may be real.
“Actions speak louder than words. So, it confirms that obviously there must be friction between Mnangagwa and Chiwenga. It does not make sense that a deputy ambassador from China goes and picks up Chiwenga from the airport and Zanu PF members are not there. As Zimbabweans we know that when Mugabe was sick and every time he came back home (from overseas) they (Zanu PF) would bus people to the airport and people will be singing and praising their leader.
“This time it was shocking that no Zanu PF members were at the airport meaning that definitely there is a rift between the two.”
She claimed that Mnangagwa and Chiwenga had a secret power transfer deal in which the latter is expected to contest the next general presidential election but indications are that the president is blocking his move.
But Malaki Nkomo, former Insiza South Zanu PF lawmaker, said such suggestions are misleading.
Nkomo said, “People should not try to raise dust where there is no dust because the issue is here somebody went out of the country and was not feeling well and now he is now back in the country. I don’t think this is something that people can waste a lot of time discussing it. Let us take into account that the vice president was sick and is now back and maybe they did not want anybody to know about it.
“… And on the issue that there is bad blood between the president and the vice president that’s not true. What we actually know is that it’s only the president that can be welcomed back home at the airport (Robert Mugabe International Airport) by Zanu PF supporters, according to protocol and for people to say the supporters did not go there because of bad blood between the president and the vice president that’s not true.”
He claimed that suggestions of a rift between Chiwenga and Mnangagwa were the work of the enemies of the party and government.
“… Our presidium is very intact and we as supporters are happy with what is happening in the party. There is no rift between these two.”
Mnangagwa once told the state-controlled media that he survived an assassination attempt in 2018 during an election campaign rally in Zimbabwe’s second largest city, Bulawayo, where a hand grenade missed him by inches, killed some people and injured party officials, including Vice President Kembo Mohadi, Zanu PF chairperson Oppah Muchinguri Kashiri and several others.