A senior Zanu-PF official has sensationally claimed that one of the passengers in a helicopter ride to a presidential youth interface rally held in Gwanda last August tried to take the life of then vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa by slipping a potentially lethal poison into the food he consumed.
The ruling party’s deputy political commissar, Omega Hungwe, told an inter-district meeting in Mutare on Sunday that Mnangagwa, who had to be rushed to South Africa for emergency treatment on the fateful day, consumed food on board a helicopter on his way to the rally on August 12, 2017.
Hungwe said Mnangagwa, who had fallen out with former president Robert Mugabe and his wife, Grace, at the time, did not eat any ice-cream at the rally but had already taken the poison when he arrived and only survived by God’s grace.
“President Mnangagwa didn’t get it (poison) from ice-cream but got it on the plane,” Hungwe said as she narrated how then Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantino Chiwenga stepped in to save his life by rushing him to a military hospital and then to South Africa.
Mnangagwa’s aides had accused Grace of trying to poison him with ice-cream from her dairy farm at the Gwanda presidential youth interface rally, but she staunchly and angrily denied this.
Hungwe’s revelations appear to exonerate Grace who, at the time, was accusing Mnangagwa of working to remove her husband from power.
About three months after the poisoning incident, Mugabe dismissed Mnangagwa as his deputy, forcing the 75-year-old politician to skip the country for fear of being eliminated physically.
He only returned to Zimbabwe after the military intervened through an exercise code-named Operation Restore Legacy that targeted “criminals” around Mugabe.
With Mugabe’s allies in sixes and sevens in the wake of the military operation, the despot was forced to resign to forestall an impeachment motion that followed his recall from the seat of power.
It was on the basis of Mugabe’s fall that Mnangagwa made a stunning comeback to assume the high-pressure job.
He revealed a few days ago that his recent visit to his doctor in South Africa revealed he has fully recovered from the poisoning.
Hungwe told the Manicaland meeting that Mnangagwa had survived countless assassination attempts since his ascent to the vice presidency.
In an interview with the Financial Times last week, Mnangagwa claimed he knew people who administered the poison which almost claimed his life.
“I suspect. I suspect as to who did it. They are still good friends of mine. I now suspect that they now know that I know. They now know that I know,” he said.
In the interview, he also claimed that his doctors had identified the kind of poison he took as some rare “hard metal arsenic toxin” only found in Russia and Israel.
“They say it was called a hard metal arsenic toxin. Arsenic toxin, something like that. That’s the class of poison. And it’s not easy to come round with it. They say it is colourless, it is tasteless, and the areas where it could be found are possibly two. Three initially, professors in that area eliminated this one, and it was left with two countries. Russia and Israel. So it’s possible it came from Russia,” he said.
“They (doctors) were surprised that I survived because then you’ve heart attack, what they called cardiac arrest. Then the verdict of death would be death by cardiac arrest. So they kept me, you know, washing this out, I had something like 28 one side, you know, what do they call these sachets? In one side. And then the other side to wash the stuff out. So last week. This was in August. Last week, I went there. They have now declared that I am now OK. It’s not visible anymore. The poison was testable, but not totally clear. But it means it’s not testable. That’s what they said. So maybe I’m the same club with you,” he added.
At the time of the incident, reports suggested Mnangagwa had boarded an Air Force of Zimbabwe plane at the Zimbabwe Defence College in the company of two ministers.
These were Sydney Sekeramayi, who was in charge of Defence, and Health and Child Care minister David Parirenyatwa.
It is not yet established who was part of the cabin crew.
While in the chopper, the then vice president was reportedly served with some samoosas, sandwiches and grapes that he ate.
Mnangagwa reportedly experienced slurred speech, loss of motor functions, and balance and diarrhoea as soon as he arrived at the Gwanda rally.
The alleged poisoning took place amid a purge of then vice president Mnangagwa, 75, a liberation war fighter and then Grace’s sworn enemy.
An ally of Mnangagwa, Energy Mutodi, made a facebook post on August 25, 2017 in which he accused Sekeramayi and Parirenyatwa of poisoning Mnangagwa.
Sekeramayi and Parirenyatwa have since sued singer Mutodi for defamation.
They are demanding $20 000 each.
The ministers say his post was false and wrongful and portrayed them as murderers when they are medical doctors who should save lives.
“The post was made and published with intention to defame plaintiffs and to injure their respective reputations. As a result of the defamation, plaintiffs have been individually damaged in their reputation and have respectively suffered damages in the sum of $20 000 each,” says the declaration from the ministers’ lawyers.
According to a State-owned daily, the duo had tried to recover the damages outside court with no success.
Efforts to get a comment from Sekeramayi and Parirenyatwa were futile yesterday.
But when the Daily News contacted him last year after Mutodi made the sensational claims, Sekeramayi took a long pause and laughed before giving a direct reply.
“I won’t say much except that all he has said is a lie and end at that,” said the Swedish-trained medical doctor.
Mnangagwa dropped Sekeramayi from the party’s politburo last year.
The once-powerful ruling party politician was also left out of the new Cabinet Mnangagwa appointed after taking over from Mugabe.
Sekeramayi, whose name was thrust into the vicious Zanu-PF succession struggle by former Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo in June last year, had served the ruling party’s administrative organ for almost 40 years.
Meanwhile, Hungwe said Zanu-PF was headed for election defeat with Mugabe as the presidential candidate.
“In 2018 we would all celebrate the ‘Mugabe in office’ mantra. That old man? Do you think we were going to win?
“I’m 60 now but even my father is younger than him. We were all lying. Even if it was out of fear, I would also agree but that is where we were going to be walloped,” Hungwe said, adding the party was so fraught with divisions that they were just trying to hold the pieces together.