Former Zim PM Tsvangirai dies

HARARE - Opposition MDC leader and former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has died at the age of 65 after a long battle with cancer.

Twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize successively in 2008 and 2009, the veteran leader died late afternoon yesterday surrounded by his family in the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre in Johannesburg.

Morgan Tsvangirai

The late MDC leader - Morgan Tsvangirai

A distraught MDC acting president Nelson Chamisa confirmed his death last night.

“He has died, I cannot say much, talk to someone,” said a weeping Chamisa.

MDC vice president Elias Mudzuri also confirmed the death, saying: “As you are aware that our MDC 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.”

Efforts to reach the third vice president Thokozani Khupe were futile last night as her mobile phone was unreachable.

Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader publicly disclosed in June 2016 that he had been diagnosed with cancer of the colon.

He underwent over a dozen sessions of chemotherapy at the top-notch facility.

The social democrat, who has dominated Zimbabwean opposition politics since the formation of the MDC in 1999, valiantly battled cancer, with his wife Elizabeth as his caregiver, helping him go through treatment, an experience that made them very close.

In his last days, Tsvangirai had been diagnosed with a kidney tumour which was in an advanced stage and had grown into the liver.

The veteran politician — who was picked to represent Zimbabwe’s opposition MDC Alliance in the presidential election expected in mid-year, his fourth time as a presidential candidate — had slipped into a semiconscious state in hospital since Friday last week.

Tsvangirai, who was Zimbabwe’s prime minister in an uneasy coalition government with toppled despot Robert Mugabe from 2009 until 2013, was set to square off with incumbent and ruling Zanu PF presidential candidate Emmerson Mnangagwa, 75, in the mid-year general election, that will also include parliamentary and municipal elections.

His death after a years-long battle with cancer sparked an immediate outpouring of tributes as leaders, political rivals and sympathisers alike lamented the tragedy of his premature passing and celebrated his monumental achievements.

Presidential spokesperson George Charamba told the Daily News last night: “We have been in touch with some family members. We have instructed the Pretoria mission to help with the funeral with the help of the family, of course, because we are aware how sensitive this is. The president and vice president are aware of this.
They got this message around 5pm.”

The ruling Zanu PF said it was so sad to hear about the passing of Tsvangirai.

“All we can say is very sad indeed,” Zanu PF spokesperson ambassador Simon Khaya Moyo told the Daily News.

“As you are aware, the president of our party and first secretary, President ED Mnangagwa and our Vice President Constantino Chiwenga recently visited him to wish him well. We thought he would recover. It’s saddening news. We mourn with the family. We didn’t expect this. We wish his soul will anchor and rest in eternal peace.”

The African National Congress also paid its condolences to the people of Zimbabwe on the passing on of Tsvangirai through its deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte.

Tsvangirai led the MDC since 1999 but the party was initially weakened by splits over how to confront Zanu PF, with the health woes of the MDC chief sparking a fierce tussle for power between his three deputies.

The party was set to hold crucial extraordinary National Executive and National Council meetings today in a bid to bring order, sanity, traction and direction as the MDC builds for the upcoming 2018 elections.

A diagnosis of cancer of colon initially cast only a mild shadow over Tsvangirai and the MDC, with the former union leader asserting that the disease was treatable.

But his health deteriorated rapidly over the past several months, and after successive temporary leaves of absence, his party was dogged by deadly infighting.

The MDC faces critical challenges in the absence of the man who was its chief product and towering father figure.

His backers paid homage to him and said the MDC has lost a visionary.

Tsvangirai’s former advisor during the stability-inducing Government of National Unity, Alex Magaisa, said “it’s a dark day”.

“Morgan Tsvangirai lost his brave battle with cancer this evening. The heart breaks with pain. It was a rare privilege and an honour to have the confidence of this icon of the democratic struggle. My thoughts are with his family,” Magaisa said last night.

Piers Pigou, an analyst for the International Crisis Group said Tsvangirai’s death will force the MDC to convene an emergency conference to sort out the differences between the three vice-leaders.

“His sickness meant an impasse around internal dynamics so this might force a resolution. That’s a possible silver lining to this tragic event,” he said.

“He was the presidential candidate for the opposition alliance. Recently, they have been campaigning on the spirit of Tsvangirai alone. The dilemma is now to find someone who will play that central role,” added Pigou.

Temba Mliswa, an independent Member of Parliament, called Tsvangirai “a true democrat who fearlessly stood up to the Mugabe regime and was an inspiration to many”.

“Although we may have differed politically I held a deep respect for MT,” he said.

Okay Machisa, director of civil society group ZimRights said: “One thing that I would like to mention is that, in the history of our country, we have a person who had to fight for the labour movement, we had seen a person who was ready to sacrifice for the people. He rose to represent the people of Zimbabwe regardless of the suffering. This is a person who would in the eyes of the people, would be accorded a hero’s status.”

Tsvangirai’s death sent shockwaves through social media last night, as masses of Twitter users flooded the site to express their heart-felt emotions.

Politicians quickly jumped on social media, sending tributes and messages of sadness as news of the veteran politician’s death hit media outlets.

MDC Alliance spokesperson Welshman Ncube said on the microblogging site, Twitter: “Tired, numb.”

Former Zanu PF political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere said: “To live in the hearts of others is never to die. Your memory will forever be in the hearts of Zimbabweans. You fought a good fight, RIP Save.”

Former Education minister David Coltart said: “I am very sad to hear that Morgan Tsvangirai has lost his brave final battle. He will remain one of the giants of the long struggle to bring democracy to #Zimbabwe. I will remember him for his courage, humility, humour and relentless determination to bring freedom to Zim. RIP MT.”

Bruce Whatorn, who served as United States ambassador to Zimbabwe between September 2012 until November 2015, tweeted: “I will always remember and admire his courage.”

Born in 1952 to a bricklayer father in drought-prone Buhera, in the southeast of Zimbabwe, Tsvangirai prematurely ended his studies at Gokomere Mission to support his siblings.

The eldest of nine children, Tsvangirai worked at a textile mill in Mutare in the east, and later joined a nickel mine in Bindura, a town in the country’s north.

At independence from Britain in 1980, Tsvangirai became branch chairman of the National Mine Workers Union, rising through the ranks to become secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions in 1988, a post he relinquished when he formed the MDC in 1999.

Under his leadership, his labour federation challenged economic policy and lack of democracy in the 1990s.

In well-coordinated and crippling national strikes, workers staged street protests against meagre salaries, rising inflation, rampant corruption and deepening poverty.

In 1998, Tsvangirai became chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly, a position largely seen as recognition for his leadership. His political career steadily rose, as he became a household name and a symbol of resistance.

When hired men unsuccessfully tried to throw him from the 9th floor of his Chester House office in central Harare, the capital, in December 1998, Zimbabwean workers spontaneously downed their tools.

A powerful public speaker who challenged Mugabe and was one time charged with treason, he had six children with his late wife Susan, who died in a 2009 car accident.

In September 2012, he wed businesswoman Elizabeth Macheka, now 41, but did not sign the legal marriage register due to a legal challenge to their union by the PM’s ex-lover Locardia Karimatsenga. Elizabeth became his full-time career and watched as he began to slip away.

Efforts to reach her for comment last night were futile.

His relentless push for democratic change won him several awards, including an honorary doctorate of Laws from Pai Chai University in South Korea and Solidar Silver Rose award.

Comments (3)

Mwari matidarirei kutora Moses motisiya tiripakati pegwungwa. Thank you lord for guiding us this far under the leadership of one fearless, humble and distinguished hero, one MRT. Rest in peace President. Will remember you always

Kabelo Kabvuto - 15 February 2018

Mwari matidarirei kutora Moses motisiya tiripakati pegwungwa. Thank you lord for guiding us this far under the leadership of one fearless, humble and distinguished hero, one MRT. Rest in peace President. Will remember you always

Kabelo Kabvuto - 15 February 2018

Did Robert Mugabe not hear about the passing on of VaTsvangirai ? It seems he is the only one not passing his condolences. What's going on?

Ben Menashe - 15 February 2018

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