Vice President Constantino Chiwenga was airlifted to China on Sunday after his health deteriorated.
The 63-year-old disappeared from the public eye more than two weeks ago – missing three official engagements and triggering media speculation of a major fallout with President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Chiwenga left Harare shortly after mid-day Sunday on a Dubai-registered private jet, a Boeing 737-7AK (BBJ), which is regularly used by Mnangagwa, even for domestic travel.
George Charamba, the spokesman for the presidency, said: “I can confirm that the vice president left for China for his medical check-up. Obviously, we can’t say how long that will take because that will depend on what experts say. But he is out of the country.”
Over the weekend, Charamba told journalists that Chiwenga had been advised by doctors to take a rest.
The former army commander missed the monthly clean-up exercise on March 6, when he was due to officiate in Mvurwi. On March 12, he had been billed as the guest of honour for a field day at Mnangagwa’s farm in Kwekwe but again failed to show. Chiwenga also missed a hand-over of model houses to Cyclone Idai victims in Chivhu, despite being on the programme.
Charamba told The Daily News on Saturday, a day before the airlift, that Chiwenga had complained of fatigue and was resting at home.
“He was not feeling too well and he wanted a bit of rest. That’s the real issue. Speculation that there’s bad blood between him and the president… is nonsense,” Charamba said.
Chiwenga spent the greater part of last year in hospitals in South Africa, India and China, where he received treatment for more than six months.
He told friends when he returned home in December that he had been treated for esophageal stricture, the abnormal narrowing of the esophagus which causes patients difficulties in swallowing and leads to dramatic weight loss.
Before his latest trip, he had returned to China at least once since December for what Charamba described as a “routine medical check-up”. Sunday’s flight, however, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic whose epicentre is China, would suggest that Chiwenga has a medical emergency that could not wait.
Chiwenga is in the middle of a messy divorce from his wife, Mary, which has spilled over to the Supreme Court as the couple fight over the custody of their three young children.