After weeks of silence around the well-being of former army chief, Constantino Chiwenga, one of Zimbabwe’s two vice presidents, the government has taken the unusual step of publicly acknowledging that all is not well with the alleged mastermind of the November 2017 military intervention that ended the long-time rule of former President Robert Mugabe.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa ended the brewing rumors and speculation about the health and whereabouts of his vice president, who had been absent from many public events, at a recent Zanu-PF Women’s National Assembly meeting.
Though he did not disclose the nature of the illness, Mnangagwa confirmed what many had been whispering - that Chiwenga, was not in good health.
“Our Vice President, comrade (Constantino) Chiwenga is not feeling well,” said Mnangagwa, explaining further that, “he had gone to India for some time, and he was treated well, and he came back and returned to work. But he started having problems again and then we sent him to South Africa.”
As a follow up to Mnangagwa’ s announcement, presidential spokesperson George Charamba further revealed in a press statement released Monday, that the vice president had since left South Africa for China, where “he is set to undergo further medical tests.”
Quelling fears that the move to China was indicative of a deteriorating situation, Charamba noted the opposite.
“His relocation to China, which builds on the satisfactory recovery progress he has been making, follows weekend discussions at the highest levels between Governments of Zimbabwe and China, at which a decision was taken to allow Chinese medical experts to join their expert counterparts from Zimbabwe, South Africa and India, in attending to the vice president.”
Explaining the government’s deluge of information about the state of the vice president, Deputy Information Minister Energy Mutodi said the government was “following a policy of transparency and we want to be accountable to the people of Zimbabwe, especially for officials who occupy high offices of government.”
Mutodi also added that the government decided to share the information to tame the rampant speculation.
“We don’t want that speculation,” said Mutodi. “We want newspapers or media houses to report accurately about what will be happening. So this is the reason why the deputy chief secretary in charge of presidential communication, had to come up with that statement to inform the nation that the vice president, Honorable Chiwenga, who has been in South Africa, receiving medical treatment, will now be transferred to China.”
Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by Nelson Chamisa, has taken issue with Chiwenga’s numerous trips outside the country, saying it’s a waste of government resources in light of the chronic shortages of electricity, fuel and other basic necessities, and tasked the government to improve the health care system in Zimbabwe so high level officials can seek treatment locally.
“As the MDC led by Advocate Nelson Chamisa we are saying it’s sad to hear all this because the situation is very bad in all Zimbabwean hospitals,” said MDC spokesperson, Thabitha Khumalo.
“Why should he be sent to China to seek medical care when the majority of Zimbabweans are expected to get help from local hospitals? There are no drugs and very few doctors attending patients at local hospitals. He must come back. China should bring him back. He should go to Parirenyatwa (hospital) like some of us. Why is he seeking medical care outside the country? What’s scaring him?” challenged Khumalo.
Chiwenga’s trip to China came at a time when Zimbabwe’s nurses had threated a strike, protesting about poor wages and working conditions at government owned institutions.
Mutodi, acknowledged the poor state of the country’s health care system, which he said has not developed as expected.
“Since our attainment of independence, we have seen that our pace of development in terms of health care facilities has been very slow, in line with the growing population, and also the growing and new technologies that are being invented worldwide,” said Mutodi.
He added, however, that improvements are underway, and he credited Mnangagwa’ s efforts to seek help from such countries as the United Arab Emirates, and India, for resources to help revive the crumbling sector and build a state of the art facility.
“Recently you have heard that his Excellency President Mnangagwa, has been globetrotting, negotiating with countries such as the UAE, India and other countries to ensure that we get equipment, modern equipment and medicines that can be used to treat various ailments.”
Mutodi said treatment would be available to all Zimbabweans, once the country’s doctors and nurses become familiar with advanced medical equipment.
“We see that at the present moment, some of our medical staff and medical doctors may not have been used to the new equipment that has been sourced from outside, so we need to allow them time to get used to the new equipment so that they can administer the treatment to our VIP,” Mutodi said.