DESPITE long-standing rivalry with President Robert Mugabe, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, currently battling cancer of the colon, received a shot in the arm from an unlikely source -- the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) -- when he got US$70 000 to meet part of his medical bills, the Zimbabwe Independent can reveal.
Tsvangirai, leader of the MDC-T and ex-prime minister in the coalition government with Zanu PF from 2009 to 2013, has in recent months reduced his public appearances due to his condition.
In a surprise gesture, the Zanu PF government, according to sources, extended the financial aid to the MDC-T president sometime in June to help cover part of his medical expenses in neighbouring South Africa. He is now undergoing chemotherapy to fight the disease.
It is understood that the money from the OPC was collected from government offices by his relatives.
Tsvangirai disclosed he is battling cancer of the colon in June after he looked frail and unwell when he participated in a demonstration in Harare which saw thousands of his supporters marching to demand the resignation of Mugabe over corruption and economic mismanagement.
The MDC leader then failed to attend political rallies in Mutare and Bulawayo despite his party saying he would lead from the front, fueling speculation over his health.
Opening up on his fight against cancer, Tsvangirai, in a recent interview with the Independent, said the medical costs were beyond his means. However, he declined to disclose the exact costs or source of funding.
According to sources in government, negotiations for the money were arranged by third parties between Tsvangirai and state officials.
"When Tsvangirai fell ill a lot of people sympathised with him over the costs of chemotherapy and other medical and travelling costs. The arrangements to help secure US$70 000 were mainly between third parties from Tsvangirai's side and some senior government officials. After the request was heeded, Tsvangirai's relatives collected the money," said the source.
Efforts to get a comment from Mugabe's spokesperson George Charamba were in vain as his mobile phone went unanswered while a message sent to him was not responded to.
Senior MDC-T officials confirmed off the record that Tsvangirai received money from government to pay some of his medical bills.
Some sources in the MDC-T claimed that the cash from the government was his pension money for serving as prime minister during the inclusive government whose tenure ended in 2013 after which Mugabe controversially won elections held during the same year.
"Most MDC-T officials who served during the unity government were given pensions. The understanding is that Tsvangirai was given his pension money," said a source in the opposition party.
Contacted for comment yesterday, Tsvangirai's spokesperson Luke Tamborinyoka said: "You spoke to the president (Tsvangirai) and he gave you his response. I am not going to dignify your story by giving it any legs."
In an interview with this newspaper on September 28, Tsvangirai declined to divulge how he was coping with medical bills, saying the information was confidential.
When further asked to comment on allegations that part of the payment for his cancer treatment has been paid by Mugabe's office, Tsvangirai neither confirmed nor denied the claims.
"I cannot confirm that so and so has given me money. I still say that the expenses of my treatment are confidential and I am grateful to whoever has made contributions and continue to make contributions, because this is really expensive and far beyond my capacity to sustain," Tsvangirai said.
"... It is an expensive exercise, that is where I think that for other Zimbabweans it's something that is a sure sign of a death sentence, if you don't get the help that is necessary and that is timely. It's something that the state should definitely set as a priority. This issue of cancer is now so prevalent we don't know whether it's our food or working conditions."
Tsvangirai said he had no problems seeking medical treatment locally but his only worry is confidentiality.
"The biggest problem we have in this country is confidentiality. Two years ago I was treated at a local Trauma Centre and I have no problem in getting treatment here. My biggest problem is confidentiality. Why should my state of health be subject to public debate and scrutiny?"