Politician fought to transform Zimbabwe
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.”
Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai died at age 65 after battling cancer for two years.