PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe initially wanted Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa to conceal medical findings in his poisoning saga, fearing the issue could rock the boat in the ruling Zanu PF party, but the information somehow spilled into the public domain, NewsDay has learnt.
BY RICHARD CHIDZA
This came amid fresh details that Mnangagwa fell sick shortly after ingesting a lethal radioactive substance known as thallium, mainly used by Russia’s feared spy agency to eliminate anti-government activists Mugabe, according to insiders, did not want the embarrassment of having issues around the poisoning addressed in public, hence, the “gentlemen’s understanding” with Mnangagwa that a “certain narrative” be put out to the public.
“The President did not want the opposition feasting on top Zanu PF officials attempting to kill each other for power, so (he) requested Mnangagwa to conceal the details. But then, the President probably did not put his G40 colleagues in on the deal,” an insider said.
The Zanu PF leader, in his address to a youth interface rally in Gweru on September 1, did not deny Mnangagwa had been poisoned, but said it was not food poisoning, lashing out at those insinuating that ice-cream from his Gushungo Dairies could have been used.
“It was not food poisoning, no! The doctor said they tested his blood, but failed to find any traces of food poisoning. They tested for traces of poisoning caused by stale food because stale foods have different kinds of poison and there was none of that,” Mugabe told party supporters.
NewsDay heard that Mnangagwa, however, backtracked on his agreement with the President after Mugabe seemed to attack him in public and allowing leading figures in the Zanu PF G40 faction of the party to abuse him.
“He (Mnangagwa) could not take it anymore and notified Mugabe that he would tell the truth, hence, the responses. After the fall-out with (Vice-President Phelekezela) Mphoko, Mnangagwa also threatened to make public his medical toxicology report on the assassination bid,” NewsDay was told.
While he was Acting President, Mphoko rubbished Mnangagwa’s claims that he had been poisoned, as the Zanu PF succession war reached a climax last week.
Matters came to a head last week when Mugabe returned from a visit to South Africa with an altercation between his two deputies, as they waited for his arrival at Harare International Airport.
Mugabe was briefed and seemed to dismiss Mnangagwa’s bid to explain on the runway.
Before the day was out, Mnangagwa had issued a stinging statement against Mphoko, literally telling his counterpart “you are not my doctor”.
Government sources this week said that while preliminary indications pointed to palladium, further investigations had shown Mnangagwa had, instead, ingested thallium.
“The swelling, near shut-down of all organs and diarrhoea are symptoms more synonymous with thallium than palladium. Mnangagwa had to be sedated to relieve pressure on vital organs,” NewsDay heard.
Mnangagwa was airlifted to South Africa after falling ill during a Zanu PF youth interface rally in Gwanda on August 12 this year.
After initially being stabilised at a private facility in Gweru, the VP was taken to South Africa on Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander Constantino Chiwenga’s directive.
“When ED (Mnangagwa)’s South African doctors met the President, they revealed that, indeed, the VP had ingested food laced with thallium. It is still not known how he took the poison, with conflicting reports still filtering in,” a Mnangagwa sympathiser said.
“Protocol does not allow aircraft to be flown too close to the President when he is either sitting or at a function. So, security personnel were in a fix. Mnangagwa had to be air-lifted, but nobody could make the call because that might have breached protocol.
“A top army official then made the call allowing two military helicopters to leave Gwanda, one to Bulawayo as a decoy and another carrying Mnangagwa to Gweru. Mugabe was told his deputy had been taken to Bulawayo. He was left fuming when he learnt that he had been lied to.”
Mugabe, according to sources, got angry with Mnangagwa for allegedly “misleading him”.
Mnangagwa, with support from sections of the security services, is seen as the front runner to take over from Mugabe, but the VP’s bid has been met with fierce opposition from within Zanu PF, which is effectively split between two distinct groups in the power scrap to succeed the 93-year-old leader.
Thallium is described as a soft, malleable grey metal that was previously widely used in rat poisons and insecticides, compounds containing the element that are highly toxic with the most dangerous ones mainly colourless, odourless and tasteless.
Thallium poisoning is via ingestion or absorption through the skin. The lethal dose for humans is 15-20mg/kg, although much smaller doses have also led to death.
Non-lethal doses cause toxic effects. Thallium was banned in the United States for both domestic and commercial use in 1934 after a number of fatalities, but remains available to government security agencies.
One of the most recent prominent uses of thallium was in the assassination of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.
Police sources said an investigation into the alleged poisoning had stalled.
“Some arms of the State are refusing to co-operate. This has made the whole thing stop and nothing can be done now,” the source said.
“The unfinished report that is sitting with investigators indicates he (Mnangagwa) flew alone, ate something during the flight, but did not take anything on arrival. He actually complained to someone at the Gwanda information kiosk on arrival that he was not feeling well,” another source said.
Police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba said there had not been any development.
“I would have to check if there is anything new regarding that issue,” she said.
High-level government sources, however, said Mnangagwa had queried the “catering set-up” after the incident.
“After the poisoning incident, the VP actually raised questions on the arrangement around the catering staff. Normally, there are six staffers in charge of catering at the high table. Four are responsible for the President and one each to serve the two VPs.
But after the third youth interface rally in Masvingo, someone curiously changed this arrangement with the catering staffers for the VPs being relegated to the back,” another source added.
While sources close to Mnangagwa claimed he ate “fingerlicks” at the high table, security sources investigating the matter argued he drank a bottle of frozen water.
The other outstanding curious cases involving attempts on Mnangagwa include the cyanide poisoning of his office on the eve of his appointment as Vice-President in December 2014 that left his private secretary hospitalised.
There have also been numerous suspicious break-ins at Mnangagwa’s offices that remain unresolved.