Politi­cian fought to trans­form Zim­babwe

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - LOCAL - By An­drew Mel­drum and Farai Mut­saka

JOHANNESBURG >> Zim­bab­wean op­po­si­tion leader Mor­gan Ts­van­gi­rai died Wed­nes­day at age 65, end­ing a long cam­paign to lead his coun­try that brought him jail­ings, beat­ings and ac­cu­sa­tions of trea­son.

Ts­van­gi­rai died Wed­nes­day evening in a Johannesburg hos­pi­tal, said Elias Mudzuri, a vice pres­i­dent of the Move­ment for Demo­cratic Change party. The op­po­si­tion leader had been bat­tling colon can­cer for two years.

Ts­van­gi­rai for years was long­time ruler Robert Mu­gabe’s most po­tent chal­lenger and even be­came prime min­is­ter in an un­com­fort­able coali­tion govern­ment for a few years. Mu­gabe, 93 and in power for 37 years, re­signed in Novem­ber af­ter pres­sure from the mil­i­tary and rul­ing party.

In Jan­uary, the ail­ing Ts­van­gi­rai sug­gested that he would be step­ping down, say­ing he was “look­ing at the im­mi­nent prospects of us as the older gen­er­a­tion leav­ing the levers of lead­er­ship to al­low the younger gen­er­a­tion to take for­ward this huge task.”

His death leaves the op­po­si­tion in dis­ar­ray just months be­fore na­tional elec­tions. An op­po­si­tion al­liance had en­dorsed him as its can­di­date, even as his deputies tus­sled to act as party leader while he was out of the coun­try for treat­ment.

Those power strug­gles are now likely to in­ten­sify, which may give an edge to the rul­ing party, ZANU-PF, and its can­di­date, Pres­i­dent Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa.

“We are still mourn­ing. This is not the time to talk about that,” MDC party spokesman Obert Gutu said.

Ts­van­gi­rai came tan­ta­liz­ingly close to the pres­i­dency in 2008 when he won the most votes in the election. But the re­sults, de­layed nearly a month as Mu­gabe’s of­fi­cials “ver­i­fied” the count, gave him just 47 per­cent, shy of the more than 50 per­cent ma­jor­ity needed to win out­right. Ts­van­gi­rai boy­cotted the runoff, cit­ing wide­spread vi­o­lence against his sup­port­ers, hand­ing Mu­gabe the vic­tory.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions then led to the coali­tion govern­ment, an un­easy al­liance that ended in 2013 when Mu­gabe won elec­tions amid charges of in­tim­i­da­tion and rig­ging.

Be­ing Mu­gabe’s most prom­i­nent op­po­nent brought Ts­van­gi­rai con­sid­er­able hard­ship. He was jailed sev­eral times and charged with trea­son. He suf­fered a frac­tured skull and in­ter­nal bleed­ing when he and more than a dozen other lead­ers of his party were ar­rested and beaten with gun butts, belts and whips in 2007.

In an ear­lier in­ci­dent Ts­van­gi­rai was al­most thrown from his of­fice win­dow by a govern­ment agent.

“Mor­gan Ts­van­gi­rai will be re­mem­bered as one of Zim­babwe’s great pa­tri­ots,” op­po­si­tion fig­ure and hu­man rights lawyer David Coltart said Wed­nes­day night. “Although, like all of us, he made mis­takes none of us ever doubted his com­mit­ment to trans­form Zim­babwe into a mod­ern, tol­er­ant state.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Zim­babwe op­po­si­tion leader Mor­gan Ts­van­gi­rai died at age 65 af­ter bat­tling can­cer for two years.

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