By Lulu Brenda Harris
HE is not the unluckiest man in the world, most people are battling poverty, there are starving children in communities and sick people are fighting various forms of terminal diseases. But sometimes, one wonders why fate has been so cruel to Morgan Tsvangirai (65). Some cannot help but feel the oppositional leader is cursed or is just unlucky, looking at the instances of bad luck that have visited him over and over again.
As leader of the main opposition party in Zimbabwe, he won a presidential election twice in 2002 and 2008 but was denied victory by political rivals, the ruling party Zanu PF. In 2009, he entered into a Government of National Unity, a power sharing agreement with Zanu PF to stop the persecution of his supporters after massive political violence in the country. After sharing power with his bitter rivals, Tsvangirai lost the 2013 presidential election and was booted out of government, save for his party that managed to win some seats in Parliament.
He still commands support but Tsvangirai’s political journey has been marred by challenges and disappointments over the years. He has also suffered episodes of embarrassment after his ‘messy love life’ was splashed on national newspapers, exposing his weakness and poor judgment as a man. He suffered a major knock and his critics painted him as a “now well established open zip, open mouth and shut mind reputation” (Sunday Mail, June 8, 2013).
Now, the former prime minister is battling cancer of the colon, which he was diagnosed with in 2016. He has since been admitted at the Donald Gordon Medical Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa receiving specialist care. Reports says Tsvangirai has also been diagnosed with a kidney tumour which is at an advanced stage and has grown into the liver prompting his supporters to ask Zimbabweans to pray for him.
Due to his sickness, the MDC-T leader has not been actively involved in the party for some months now causing some rifts within. Even though he is in a hospital bed, supposed to be resting so that he can recuperate, drama seems to follow him.
His wife, Elizabeth Macheka (41) was recently barred by his family to see him at the hospital where he is admitted. Reports say a fist fight almost degenerated at the hospital and physicians were drawn in to solve the impasse. The physicians, after considering what was best for the patient resolved that only his mother be granted access to him.
Since he could not be allowed to see his wife, Tsvangirai went on a hunger strike in protest. It is reported he refused to eat for 10 days. He was then placed in the Intensive Care Unit as his health deteriorated.
Meanwhile, according to a leaked audio tape, Tsvangirai’s family has also seized his diplomatic passport, as means to prevent him from travelling to Zimbabwe where infighting in MDC-T is growing explosive by the day.
While he is in hospital, some alleged relatives also wanted to loot his property at his Highlands Home. The government had to deploy armed police guards to protect the house.
This is his story: A son of a bricklayer, Tsvangirai had no formal education but worked in a nickel mine before joining politics. Initially he supported former president Robert Mugabe’s rise to power but became a critic of Zanu PF when he led the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. He was part of the trade unionists who formed the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in 1999. In 2000, MDC managed to claim 57 seats and since then Tsvangirai has been in the opposition, fighting Zanu PF. He later joined the government in 2009, but was out after losing the 2013 elections.
Tsvangirai’s personal life seemed to be on track but however, became disjointed after his wife, Susan, died in a car accident on his way to his rural home in Buhera in March 2009, less than a month after he became prime minister.
His party believed the accident was not genuine and issued a statement while rumours spread that the fatal accident was a failed assassination attempt considering that Zimbabwe has a history of political killings. Reports say Tsvangirai, has himself survived three previous attempts on his life. In 1997 an unidentified gang tried to throw him from a 10th floor office window. In 2007 he was admitted to hospital after a brutal assault by police at a prayer rally.
Tsvangirai had been married for 31 years and had six children. Susan was not politically active but did provide support to her husband in rallies, bringing him food in prison after his police beatings and nursing him to health afterwards.
The death of his wife seemed to have been a blow for him as his love life turned ‘chaotic.’ Tsvangirai was involved in a string of relationships with numerous women and the media had a party covering all the sordid details. His loyalists believed it was a set up by intelligence officials. Others claimed he had a poor judgement when it came to women and predicted that would be his downfall.
In 2012, reports emerged that he had paid lobola for a Harare woman, Locardia Karimatsenga but later announced he was marrying Macheka. Karimatsenga took legal action to stop his wedding to Macheka. Her argument was she could not allow him to enter into a monogamous process because he had not divorced her customarily before committing to a form of marriage that allowed him one wife.
The magistrate ruled in Karimatsenga’s favour and said Tsvangirai failed to dissolve the marriage under customary law. He further ruled he could not issue him with a marriage certificate until he had gone through customary procedures and if he did go ahead with marrying Macheka, he would be arrested for bigamy.
As that matter was in court, another South African woman, Nosipho Shilubane, appeared into the scene, posting pictures she had taken with Tsvangirai at a boat cruise in the Seychelles. Shilubane launched her own court battle to halt Tsvangirai’s planned marriage and has since written a book about her relationship with him, which started in late 2009.
Nevertheless, Tsvangirai continued with his plans to wed Macheka and on their supposed wedding day, they did not marry officially as they were aware of the court judgement but rather chose to celebrate their already existing customary law union.
Yet, even after his ‘marriage’ to Macheka, problems were soon reported. Macheka accused him of cheating on her with two women. In sensational audio tapes obtained by state media, Macheka, also accused Tsvangirai of suffering from erectile dysfunction that prevented them from intimacy since their marriage in 2012. Reports also said their marriage was sometimes volatile that they sometimes resorted to physical fights.
In 2014, a young Bulawayo woman, Loreta Nyathi, also launched an attack on Tsvangirai saying he had refused to obtain a birth certificate for their then three-year-old son.
After these scandals dogging his love life since the death of his first wife, the former prime minister apologised to Zimbabweans. Tsvangirai apologised while addressing over 15 000 MDC-T supporters during the party’s 13th anniversary celebrations held at White City Stadium in Bulawayo. Tsvangirai said he had no intention of hurting anyone but his -was a search for a partner.
Although he may still command more support than other oppositional political figures, Tsvangirai has presided over two major splits in the MDC. First in 2005 and in 2014, which analysts blame on his “dictatorial tendencies.”
In 2005, the first split was caused after a debate on the participation in Zimbabwe’s Senatorial elections that year. Initially the MDC had announced that it would not participate in elections in Zimbabwe until the country held free and fair elections. The MDC’s top six were unable to agree on the issue, and the debate went down to the MDC National Council. Tsvangirai overruled the vote, arguing it was no use contesting an election where the electoral field yielded predetermined results. This resulted in the then secretary general, Professor Welshman Ncube, walking out with other members to form their own opposition under the same name MDC banner.
The second split took place soon after their loss in the 2013 national elections. Divisions surfaced because the party could not bear their electoral loss each voting year. Tsvangirai and longstanding ally, who was now the then secretary general, Tendai Biti were soon at clobber heads. Biti with other members such as Samuel Sipepa Nkomo announced that the MDC National Council had voted to suspend Tsvangirai from the MDC because of a “remarkable failure of leadership.”
In turn Tsvangirai dismissed their meeting as illegal, unconstitutional, illegitimate and bogus, while labelling Biti an opportunist. To do away with Biti, he fired him with the other “rebels” who were key figures in the party and they were later recalled from parliament were they lost their parliamentary seats that were later won by ruling Zanu PF in by elections.
Now, another split is looming in MDC-T. The party vice president Dr Thokozani Khupe, MDCT chairperson Lovemore Moyo and organising secretary Abdenico Bhebhe are against the party’s alliance with six other political parties. The alliance is made up of MDC-T, MDC, PDP, Transform Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe People First (ZimPF), Zanu Ndonga and the Multi-Racial Christian Democratic Party.
The party vice president claims the MDC Alliance is a Mashonaland project that has nothing to do with party supporters in Matabeleland region because MDC -T has not lost in the southern region compared to the northern side. The trio also alleged Tsvangirai did not consult them when he signed the alliance deal with the six oppositional leaders. They are also against the proposed sharing of parliamentary seats, which the trio alleges favour Prof Ncube and Biti who left the main MDC to lead their own formations, the MDC and PDP respectively.
The turmoil in MDC-T is further complicated by the succession issue seeing that the oppositional party has three vice presidents, Dr Khupe, Nelson Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri. Due to these triple line of authority, MDC-T party has been divided into three factions allegedly led by Dr Khupe, Chamisa and Mudzuri.
Conflicting statements about who should succeed him have been issued by the party and his spokesperson, Luke Tamborinyoka who claims that he acts on the leader’s behalf. Last week Tamborinyoka announced he had been instructed that the youthful Chamisa was supposed to be acting president. At the same time, Mudzuri claimed he was still the acting president as he had met with Tsvangirai in Johannesburg.
Simultaneously, Dr Khupe also maintained she is the rightful heiress to ascent to the throne because she was elected as deputy president at three consecutive congresses and has served as his deputy for more than 11 years. To worsen issues, Tsvangirai’s family seems to have waded in the MDC-T succession issues, whose involvement is widening the confusion.
All these are challenges that have, and are afflicting the former prime minister. But if Tsvangirai managed to survive some obstacles both politically and personally, one miraculously hopes he will beat the cancer that is ravaging him.