MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai is battling for his life in a South African hospital after his condition deteriorated rapidly yesterday.
According to family sources, the 65-year-old opposition politician who was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016 is plagued by exhaustion, weight loss and muscle thinning. He has lost appetite, and is facing difficulty eating or swallowing fluids. As of yesterday, he was said to be breathing slowly, sometimes with very long pauses between breaths.
The MDC leader left for South Africa on January 5 for routine check-up. He is currently receiving treatment at the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre (WDGMC) in Johannesburg where doctors are doing their best to fight the cancer, which has reportedly metastasized. When a cancer has metastasized, it would have spread to other sites in the body.
Established in 2002, WDGMC is the first and only private teaching hospital in South Africa — the continent's most advanced economy. It was set up when the University of the Witwatersrand bought the Kenridge Hospital with a founding donation from the Donald Gordon Foundation. It was then renamed the WDG-MC.
The 190-bed facility's main specialties are transplant surgery, oncology (paediatric and adult), gastroenterology (medical and surgical), geriatric medicine, interventional radiology ophthalmology, ear-nose and throat, urology, nephrology, cardiology, women's health and orthopaedics.
Acting MDC president Elias Mudzuri refused to be drawn into discussing Tsvangirai's health yesterday, saying he could not comment on family matters.
He said: "I cannot discuss that one. I am not at luxury to discuss that. When I talk to the president, it is about the party and not his health. I cannot discuss issues that are happening in South Africa when I am in Zimbabwe".
Repeated efforts to speak to Tsvangirai's family spokesperson, Hebson Makuvise, were fruitless as he was not picking up his phone.
Tsvangirai has been going through chemo-therapy treatment in South Africa to try and contain the spread of the cancer, which happens when tumorous growths develop in the large intestine. It is the third most common type of cancer. When a colorectal cancer is diagnosed, tests are performed to determine the extent of the disease. This process is called staging — done to determines how advanced a colorectal cancer has become. The staging for colorectal cancer ranges from stage one, the least advanced cancer, to stage four, the most advanced cancer. The last stage happens when the cancer has metastasized to distant organs or lymph nodes far from the original tumour.
In most cases, the best treatment at the last serge is chemotherapy, which is what Tsvangirai has been going through. This-treatment has been proven to extend life and improve the quality of life. Survival rates for any cancer are often reported by stage, the extent of spread when the cancer is identified. For colon and rectum cancer, around 39 percent are diagnosed at the local stage, before the cancer has spread outside the local area.
The five year survival for these patients with localised colon and rectum cancer is 90 percent. When the cancer has spread to the regional lymph nodes near the site of origin, the five-year survival rate is about 71 percent. When the cancer has metastasized to distant sites in the body (stage four cancer), the five-year survival rate lowers to about 13,5 percent.
MDC insiders told the Daily News yesterday that Tsvangirai's deteriorating health has drawn a wedge between his family and party officials with close relatives keeping him captive and cutting out his aides. They also pleaded with Zimbabweans to pray for Tsvangirai. Only a few people are allowed to visit the former prime minister in hospital amid reports that MDC sympathisers with deep pockets have also captured Tsvangirai's relatives whom they are using to gain unfettered access to him while blocking party officials and other well-wishers who could threaten their interests.
An attempt by one of Tsvangirai's three deputies, Nelson Chamisa, to visit him in Johannesburg last week hit a brick wall after he was told by one of the relatives that he was not welcome. Tsvangirai's wife, Elizabeth, is also being sidelined by close family members who could be eyeing his estate. Following his visit to Tsvangirai's residence in Highlands, Harare last month, President Emmerson Mnangagwa assured the MDC leader that he will work towards releasing his pension and other benefits, while also enabling him to retain his Highlands mansion acquired for him when he was prime minister in the inclusive government of 2009 and 2013.
Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa has since made the requisite legislative changes to enable Treasury to release the money. MDC insiders said the pension and other featherbeddings dangled by government last month have added fuel to the discord in the 19-year-old political outfit with Tsvangirai's deteriorating health worsening the succession fights in his party. Chamisa and the other two MDC vice presidents, Thokozani Khupe and Mudzuri are all scheming to succeed him. The name of the party's secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora has also been thrown in the succession fights.
In his New Year message last month, the MDC leader hinted at retirement saying he will hand over the reins to a younger successor. Observers opine the MDC leader could have set his eyes on Chamisa, who turned 40 last week. When he left for South Africa last month, Tsvangirai left the reigns for the MDC Alliance a coalition of seven political parties that he leads — in the hands of Chamisa. Mudzuri was assigned to superintend over the party, an anomalous situation that is now threatening the country's main opposition party.
Although sources said Tsvangirai was critical, his spokesperson Luke Tamborinyoka insisted yesterday that the MDC leader was "stable". Tamborinyoka appeared to confirm that in his absence, wild cat fights are becoming the order of the day not only in the party he formed in 1999 but also among family members.
"There are vultures who must allow my boss to live his life and recover in peace and give due respect to him, his current predicament in his family and his life. Some of these vultures have even formed social media teams to mount ferocious attacks on his spokesperson, on his life and on veterans of the party in a dodgy race to nowhere because there is no vacancy. The social media campaign has footprints of its authors all over it. It's a male vulture," said Tamborinyoka.
"The vultures, especially the arrivist vultures, do not know the culture of this mammoth edifice, this behemoth called Harvest House which has a penchant of exposing charlatans and power mongers. These vultures must allow my boss to recover in peace. They must give Morgan Tsvangirai the dignity he deserves not to create artificial stonewalls around him.
"I have spoken to the president myself today (yesterday) for over 25 minutes and I know his concerns around all these issues. He is telling the charlatans to stop, he is telling the charlatans to hold their horses. These people must allow us to concentrate on the real battle of fighting this government of . . . Mnangagwa. Tsvangirai is not the issue right now, we must not focus internally. They must allow us to go back to the proper narrative of the clueless government of… Mnangagwa which has failed to grant reprieve to the despondent people of Zimbabwe," said Tamborinyoka.
While addressing a rally in Chitungwiza on Sunday, Chamisa claimed to have met with his principal a couple of days before. But several MDC officials who spoke to the Daily News on condition of anonymity rubbished his claims, saying Chamisa did not get to see Tsvangirai as he was barred from seeing him.
"In fact, Chamisa was stopped from seeing Tsvangirai in hospital in Johannesburg last week Thursday. Even Elizabeth has been stopped from visiting him in hospital. Tsvangirai's family is now in charge and they are livid that some political vultures are taking advantage of him," said a highly-placed source.
When asked by the Daily News if he had indeed met Tsvangirai, Chamisa, said he was not comfortable discussing such matters in the press. "I don't discuss such issues in the press," he said, before referring questions to Tamborinyoka.