The Herald (South Africa)



ZIMBABWE opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai died in Johannesbu­rg yesterday after a long battle with cancer, the vice-president of his Movement for Democratic Change party said last night

“I can confirm that he died this evening. The family communicat­ed this to me,” Elias Mudzuri said.

Tsvangirai, 65, had been in and out of hospital since disclosing in June 2016 that he had colon cancer.

He returned to Johannesbu­rg for his latest round of treatment early last month.

Tsvangirai said last month it was time for the older generation to step back and make way for new hands, raising prospects of leadership change.

A powerful orator from humble beginnings, Tsvangirai was arguably Zimbabwe’s most popular politician and came within a whisker of unseating Robert Mugabe – only to be outmanoeuv­red and ultimately outlived by his nemesis.

At the peak of his career, the selftaught son of a bricklayer served as prime minister to Mugabe as president in a 2009-13 unity government cobbled together after a disputed and violent election.

His presence helped stabilise an economy in freefall, but Mugabe reneged on pledges to overhaul the country’s security forces and Tsvangirai was shunted back into his familiar role as opposition gadfly.

A hefty electoral defeat in 2013, blamed in part on Tsvangirai’s involvemen­t in two sex scandals, put paid to his dreams of one day leading the nation.

Three years later he revealed he was being treated for colon cancer.

Despite their rivalry, Mugabe, 93, harboured grudging respect for an opponent who suffered multiple abuses at the hands of security forces, including a severe police beating in 2007.

The two men developed an uneasy working relationsh­ip, often squabbling but also taking afternoon tea every Monday and even joking about their frequent headbuttin­g.

“I got my fair share of criticisms and also dealt back rights and lefts and upper cuts,” Mugabe said on the eve of the 2013 vote, mimicking a boxer’s movements. “But that’s the game. “Although we boxed each other, it’s not as hostile as before. It’s all over now. We can shake hands.”

The young Tsvangirai worked in a rural mine to support his family – he had six children with his first wife, Susan – and cut his political teeth in the labour movement as a mine foreman.

In 1988, he became full-time secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, which broke ranks under his leadership with Mugabe’s Zanu-PF.

Tsvangirai led paralysing strikes against tax increases in 1997 and twice forced Mugabe to withdraw announced hikes, a rare setback for the former guerilla leader.

Tsvangirai helped found the labour-backed Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in 1999 and quickly became Zimbabwe’s most visible opposition figure.

In February 2000, the MDC engineered Mugabe’s first poll defeat – the rejection in a national referendum of a draft constituti­on that would have entrenched his presidenti­al powers.

That June, the MDC endured killings and police intimidati­on to stun Zanu-PF by winning 57 of the 120 seats in parliament.

Tsvangirai claimed to have been cheated by Mugabe’s cunning and violence.

In March 2008, he came closest to unseating Mugabe.

Still bearing the scars of his treatment by police, Tsvangirai beat Mugabe in a first-round vote but was forced to pull out of a run-off due to a campaign of violence.

In 2013, voters failed to credit Tsvangirai with Zimbabwe’s economic turnaround under the coalition government and handed him his biggest electoral defeat.

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