By Fungi Kwaramba
Cabinet minister and Zanu PF politburo member Jonathan Moyo waded into the saga involving the alleged poisoning of Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa yesterday; suggesting that police should investigate and establish what caused his sudden illness.
President Robert Mugabe’s government has been adamant that the Vice President — seen as the most likely official to take over from the incumbent in the event that he leaves office — consumed “stale food”.
Mnangagwa’s family and allies insist, however, that the vice president was poisoned by rivals who are desperate to eliminate him, physically, from the succession race.
He had to be hospitalised in South Africa for nearly a week following his alleged poisoning in Gwanda two weeks ago. While he is now back in the country, Mnangagwa is still to resume his official duties.
Writing on micro blogging site Twitter, Moyo dared the vice president to report the matter to the police so that full-scale investigations could commence.
“The claim that VP Mnangagwa was poisoned means a crime was committed. Police should investigate the claim and crime,” he wrote.
Moyo and Mnangagwa were once bosom buddies.
The pinnacle of their closeness came in 2004 when the Higher Education minister tried to help Mnangagwa leapfrog his way into the party’s presidium in what became known as “the Tsholotsho Declaration”.
That incident caused sparks to fly in Zanu PF, with six provincial chairmen getting suspended for their role in convening an unsanctioned meeting at Dinyane School in Tsholotsho in November 2004 to plot Mnangagwa’s rise, which fell through.
Moyo had to leave Zanu PF, eventually, to try his luck as an independent parliamentarian. He was to bounce in Zanu PF a few years later, famously remarking on his return that “it was cold outside Zanu PF”.
Many argue that Moyo has never forgiven Mnangagwa for not coming to his rescue when he fired himself from Zanu PF for daring the party’s leadership by standing as an independent candidate, against party instructions to reserve the Tsholotsho seat for a woman candidate.
Since then, Moyo has not hesitated to take pot-shots at Mnangagwa, directly or indirectly.
It got worse after the Vice President was accused of having instigated Moyo’s arrest by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission on allegations of abusing his position to funnel resources from the Zimbabwe Manpower Development Fund, which falls under his ministry.
Recently, he trashed assertions that the Vice President was the most senior Zanu PF official to succeed Mugabe, saying it was in fact Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi who has been in the game for much longer.
A few weeks earlier, he had dismissed Mnangagwa’s attempts to laud the Command Agriculture initiative as a huge success, referring to the claims as “command lies”.
In the wake of a government statement that Mnangagwa illness could have been caused by eating stale food, the Tsholotsho North Member of Parliament had last week appeared to suggest that Mugabe’s deputy could have consumed it before his arrival in Gwanda.
“Who said the stale food was on the VVIP table? Have you checked whether the allegedly stale food was not eaten elsewhere prior to the event,” Moyo said on Twitter.
Apart from the statement issued last week, government has not commented on whether it has begun the probe on the alleged poisoning.
Mnangagwa’s sympathisers and allies have claimed he was poisoned with non radioactive palladium, which damaged part of his liver, according to the doctors who performed surgery on him during his admission South Africa.
This is at variance with last week’s government’s statement.
Government has ruled out suspected food poisoning, saying results of tests conducted suggested Mnangagwa ate stale food on the day in question, which upset his tummy.
It also dismissed social media reports that Mnangagwa could have consumed ice cream laced with poison at the Gwanda youth interface rally.
“What doctors think happened is that he ate stale food,” Information, Media and Broadcasting Services minister Chris Mushohwe was quoted saying in the State media.
Contacted for comment yesterday, Mnangagwa’s son Emmerson Junior, said the vice president’s office will soon issue a statement.
He said: “I appreciate your concern regarding his health . . . I am sure his office will make a statement at the appropriate time.”
Food poisoning occurs after eating contaminated food contaminated by infectious organisms — including bacteria, viruses and parasites — or their toxins.
Its symptoms can start within hours of eating contaminated food, often include nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea.
But throughout history, there are famous poisons that have been used to kill people, including the deadly arsenic, also known as “the king of poisons” due to its discreetness and potency.
Arsenic has taken many famous lives, including Napoleon Bonaparte, George the Third of England and Simon Bolivar to name a few.
But a person can also fall ill from eating food that has gone stale — a chemical and physical process in foods that reduces their palatability.
Stale food doesn’t have nutritious and taste and if one eats it they might get bacteria diseases, which might cause vomiting, diarrhoeal and abdominal pains or mild fever.
Mnangagwa’s associates have reacted angrily to the claims that their godfather ate stale food, telling the Daily News yesterday that the vice president was livid with the claims.
“His hands bear the scars of intravenous syringes that he had. He was not eating through the mouth and he is angry that some people are saying he ate stale food when there is no such evidence,” one of the associates said.
The associate claimed Mnangagwa lost considerable weight while he was hospitalised in South Africa due to the procedures performed by doctors, including draining some of the poison that had affected some of his organs.
“He will go for further check-ups but he is yet to resume work and has gone to Kwekwe (his home). I am not sure when is he going to return but we want to have a family member always close to him to ensure that he eats the right food,” he added.
With Mugabe turning 94 in February next year, fierce jostling has emerged among his top lieutenants who believe they have what it takes to succeed him.
The race, which has been on for the past two decades, has had its intrigues.
Four vice presidents have so far succumbed to varying ailments, denying them of the opportunity to get a chance to run for the top office.
These are Joshua Nkomo (1917–1999); Simon Muzenda (1922–2003); Joseph Msika (1923–2009) and John Landa Nkomo (1934–2013).
More interestingly, Joice Mujuru, once seen as a shoo-in to take over from Mugabe, was fired from Zanu PF and government in 2014 for plotting to dethrone her boss using unconstitutional means.
Mujuru, who is now leading the National People’s Party, had deputised Mugabe for about 10 years.
Nicknamed “the crocodile” in the Shona language, Mnangagwa was appointed after the sacking of Mujuru.
But since taking over from Mujuru, Mnangagwa has found himself facing similar charges from his internal rivals of plotting to unseat Mugabe.
Mnangagwa’s allies are therefore pointing an accusing finger at their rivals for what happened in Gwanda although there is no evidence to validate their claims.
In the past, there have been six break-ins at his offices with his allies saying those were plots to eliminate him. Daily News