, Harare, Zimbabwe, Nov 24 – On August 17, the Zimbabwean government issued an official denial that Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was vice president at the time, had eaten ice cream at a political rally.
“For the record, the Vice President did not eat ice cream,” Information Minister Chris Mushohwe said.
“Yes, there was ice cream. I ate it, many people ate the ice cream, but he did not eat the ice cream himself.”
The denial was an attempt to quash reports that Mnangagwa had been poisoned by ice cream made at the large Gushungo dairy owned Robert Mugabe — who resigned as president on Tuesday — and his wife Grace.
At the time, Mnangagwa and the first lady were locked in a bitter battle to succeed the ageing 93-year-old president, with hostilities erupting in public after years of behind-the-scenes plotting.
The struggle was ultimately won by Mnangagwa who was inaugurated as president on Friday after a military takeover and mass street protests which quickly brought about Mugabe’s departure.
The ice cream scandal was one of the more colourful details of the extraordinary fall of Mugabe, whose 37-year reign came crashing down over his efforts to promote Grace as his heir.
Mnangagwa was taken seriously ill after eating at the rally and had to be urgently flown to neighbouring South Africa for emergency treatment with his life apparently at risk.
Rumours that he had died spread panic, and he only returned to Zimbabwe several days later, still in poor health.
– Grace on the attack –
Soon afterwards, Grace Mugabe waded into the scandal, launching one of her trademark verbal fightbacks against the vice president who for decades had been one of her husband’s closest allies.
“How can I kill Mnangagwa?” Grace mockingly told guests at the launch of a new bank.
“I am a wife of the president. Who is Mnangagwa on this earth? Who is he? I want to ask, what do I get from him?
“Killing someone who was given a job by my husband? That is nonsensical.”
The alleged poisoning took place in the southern town of Gwanda on August 12 at one of a series of ZANU-PF party “youth rallies” at which Mugabe spoke ahead of elections next year.
State media admitted Mnangagwa suffered severe vomiting and diarrhoea at the event, but said that doctors suspected that food which had gone off was to blame.
Mnangagwa and his wife were later seen at other public occasions refusing to eat food served by waiters.
– ‘It began with an ice cream’ –
The Mugabes’ control of lucrative dairies had been a source of deep public resentment with the couple often criticised for their corrupt business dealings and extravagant lifestyles.
Mnangagwa, 75, has no doubt that he was poisoned in a failed assassination attempt which ultimately inspired him to push harder for the end of Mugabe’s reign.
“I was subjected to poisoning which resulted in my being airlifted to South Africa,” he told supporters as he returned to Zimbabwe on Wednesday following Mugabe’s ouster.
“I survived (but) this time around I said to myself I should not wait for them to eliminate me.”
In the past week, there has been a wave of jokes, memes and viral songs that have focused on the role ice cream played in Mugabe’s spectacular downfall.
“Who would have thought that the soldiers would revolt,” say lyrics set to a popular gospel tune.
“It all started with an ice cream.”