Party official confirms death.
Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has died in a South African hospital after battling colon cancer for years.
Tsvangirai, leader of the mainstream Movement for Democratic Change, was a long-time rival of President Robert Mugabe, who was toppled in a military coup in November 2017.
Elias Mudzuri, one of the MDC-T’s three vice-president, confirmed Tsvangirai’s death.
“As you are aware that our MDC-T President, Dr Morgan Richard Tsvangirai, has not been feeling well for some time, it is sad for me to announce that we have lost our icon and fighter for democracy. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family, the party and the nation at this hour,” said Mudzuri.
As Tsvangirai’s health deteriorated in recent months, Zimbabwe’s biggest opposition party has been rocked by vicious factional fights, a few months before Zimbabwe’s elections.
The three VPs, Mudzuri, Thokozani Khupe and Nelson Chamisa, all all vying for power and in the past week they have openly clashed, with all of them claiming to be the party’s acting president.
Tsvangirai valiantly fought the disease—which had severely hampered him from conducting party activities ahead of the vital election—but in recent weeks his close allies revealed that he had suffered considerable weight loss, muscle thinning and exhaustion.
Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe in a 2008 presidential election, but was prevented from assuming power by a politicised military. One of Zimbabwe’s worst kept secrets is that the coup which toppled Mugabe on November 15 2017 was not the first military operation to overthrow the constitutional order; Tsvangirai had, in fact, faced a similar fate nine years earlier, albeit in different circumstances.
Born in 1952 in the then Rhodesia—as Zimbabwe was known before Independence—Tsvangirai was the eldest of nine children. The son of a bricklayer, he left secondary school at 22 to work Trojan Mine, a major producer of nickel in the country.
He rose to the post of foreman at the mine and married Susan in 1978, with the couple bearing six children. His wife would die aged 50 in a road traffic accident in 2009. She had been a solid pillar of strength and her demise changed his life remarkably, signalling the beginning of a series of controversies as he dated one lover after another.
Leveraging on his working class background, Tsvangirai got actively involved in labour union politics, eventually rising to the helm of the powerful Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) in 1988. When the government embraced a World Bank and International Monetary Fund-sponsored Economic Structural Adjustment Programme which led to massive retrenchment and the decimation of many companies, the ZCTU emerged as a leading critic of the unpopular undertaking. He gained prominence as a fearless voice of the toiling workers and would survive three attempts on his life by suspected security agents of the state.
As the national economy took a plunge amid rising mismanagement, corruption and incompetence, Mugabe’s one-party state found itself face-to-face with a new adversary: an increasingly vocal labour union under the rubric of Tsvangirai’s ZCTU. In 1997 and 1998, he led a series of nationwide strikes, known as “stay-aways”, which paralysed an already ailing economy and angered Mugabe’s repressive government.
In 1999, Tsvangirai became the founding leader of a new opposition political party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). It drew support from a vast array of constituencies, including students, workers, intellectuals, white commercial farmers and ordinary Zimbabweans who were fed up with poverty and Zanu Pf dictatorship.
The MDC grew in leaps and bounds, becoming, within a few years, the biggest threat to Mugabe’s stay in power. With political temperatures hotting up, the opposition leader was accused of plotting to assassinate President Mugabe before the 2002 presidential election. After a dramatic trial in which he was represented by prominent South African human rights lawyer George Bizos, he was acquitted of treason. In 2004, he was again acquitted of charges of plotting to overthrow Mugabe.
A picture depicting a badly swollen, bruised and brutalised Tsvangirai stunned the world in March 2007, placing the Zimbabwe story on the front pages of international newspapers. Alongside fellow leaders of the opposition MDC, Tsvangirai had been viciously beaten up and detained by state security agents. Far from waning, his popularity was enhanced by the shocking assault; he came to personify the resistance against Mugabe’s brutal rule.
In 2008, Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe in a presidential election but the official results were withheld for five weeks