By Fungi Kwaramba
Mystery surrounds MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai’s emergency trip to South Africa amid swirling speculation that President Robert Mugabe’s government paid for his chartered medical ambulance.
Highly-placed sources told the Daily News yesterday that government paid for Tsvangirai’s trip although it was not clear whether it had done so because of his status as former prime minister or it was a bail-out.
Tsvangirai has previously been assisted by Mugabe’s government to foot his medical bills in South Africa where he has been undergoing chemotherapy for the cancer of colon which he publicly disclosed last year.
Mugabe’s Cabinet gave $70 000 to Tsvangirai to foot his medical bills.
While former presidents and vice presidents are entitled to all the benefits accorded to sitting president and vice presidents — including pensions and holiday allowances — there is no specific mention of the prime minister.
Tsvangirai still lives in a government house that was bought for him when he was still prime minister during the inclusive government era and has had to fend off attempts by Zanu PF hawks to have him evicted.
Sources insisted yesterday that it was government which had received an order from the “top” to charter a plane for the MDC president.
They said Tsvangirai was flown to South Africa around 2:00am with the help of one of Mugabe’s relatives with an aviation background.
The MDC leader allegedly used a plane that was being flown by a friend of this Mugabe relative who had just flown some businessman to Harare from Chiredzi.
Tsvangirai — who has been picked to represent Zimbabwe’s opposition alliance in the presidential election expected early next year, his fourth time as a presidential candidate — was rushed to the Harare International Airport in an ambulance, before boarding a private plane to neighbouring South Africa early on Friday morning.
He was said to be on a stretcher bed when he was taken onto the private plane.
The social democrat, who has dominated Zimbabwean opposition politics since the formation of the MDC in 1999, was first diagnosed with cancer of the colon in June last year and has been undergoing treatment in South Africa.
Tsvangirai — who was Zimbabwe’s prime minister in an uneasy coalition government with the 93-year-old Mugabe from 2009 until 2013 — has said after repeated cycles of treatment, he was fully fit at a crucial time when his health is the main wild card before the crucial 2018 presidential vote.
Transport minister Joram Gumbo told the Daily News that Tsvangirai’s private jet was allowed to ferry him from the Harare International Airport as government had a special waiver for smaller aircrafts in emergency medical situations.
“There is a facility at the airport that caters for medical emergencies, but I am not sure who facilitated it (Tsvangirai’s trip),” Gumbo said yesterday.
Tsvangirai’s spokesperson, Luke Tamborinyoka, said he could not disclose the source of funding for his boss.
“We cannot get into that… this is not the first time he has travelled to South Africa. If you believe that he was given assistance by government then you can believe anything.
“This morning, he was in high spirits, they are some people who want to cause despondency and make their own statements,” said Tamborinyoka.
Yesterday, Tamborinyoka said Tsvangirai was in a stable condition.
A senior MDC official who asked not to be named said although the party had received some funding from government it is still broke and could not afford to hire a plane at short notice for its leader.
However, MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said although they have resource constraints they did everything to ensure that he travelled to South Africa, adding that they had received funds under the Political Parties Finance Act.
“Our president is well-catered for by the party and we facilitated his travel, he is our leader. We received some money a few weeks ago, yes. But I am not at liberty to disclose how much exactly we received from Treasury,” said Gutu.
Under the Political Parties Finance Act, any political party that secures at least five percent of the total votes cast is entitled to receive funding from Treasury.
Currently, only Zanu PF and the MDC are recipients of the funding. The MDC is currently drowning in debt and recently had its property attached over a $108 000 debt owed to former employees.
The property was saved from going under the hammer after the High Court stayed the auction. Daily News