By Lulu Brenda Harris
ZIMBABWE’s leader of the opposition, Morgan Tsvangirai (65) has lost his battle with cancer, his death has been described as a blow to the oppositional movement as he contributed immensely to the country’s struggle for democratic change.
Tsvangirai’s death has prompted calls that he be conferred with a hero status for his role in standing up against the Zanu PF regime and propping up the opposition in the country.
Condolences across the political divide and from the generality of Zimbabweans have started pouring in for the MDC-T leader, hailing him for fighting to have a free and fair elections in the country.
MDC-T Bulawayo Province said Tsvangirai deserves a hero status, as he fought a good fight in the creation of a democratic space in Zimbabwe through the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party in 1999.
The province’s spokesperson, Felix Mafa Sibanda, said the opposition has lost a great assert whose works shall leave a lasting mark in the history of politics in the country.
However, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said Tsvangirai will receive a state assisted funeral but would not be accorded with hero ship status.
Tsvangirai died February at a Johannesburg hospital where he was undergoing treatment for cancer of the colon that he was diagnosed with in 2016.
President Mnangagwa described the former prime minister as a strong trade unionist, who shall be remembered for his readiness to stretch and reach out, especially during the days of the Government of National Unity in 2009 when he was the Prime Minister.
“He remained a national figure who always insisted on free, fair credible and non-violence elections as a way of strengthening democracy and our overall rep-engagement with the rest of the world,” said Mngangagwa.
He also added that he would be inviting leaders of all political parties for a day long consultative meeting whose objective is to cultivate an ethic of collaboration in the country’s national politics.
One of the founding member of the MDC, David Coltart said Tsvangirai would be remembered as one of Zimbabwe’s greatest patriots.
“Although like us he made mistakes, none of us ever doubted his commitment to transform Zimbabwe into a modern democratic tolerant state. If anyone deserves to be called a hero it is him,” he said.
Kenyan oppositional leader Raila Odinga said until his death, Tsvangirai remained a source of inspiration to a generation of leaders across the continent for his courage in the face of monumental odds. His death leaves a gap in a country that still needs strong forces of change to return to the path of democracy.
Odinga said his prayer was that his party, the MDC-T will hold firm and pursue the ideals he lived for.
“My family, our party the Orange Democratic Movement and the National Super Alliance join Mr Tsvangirai’s family, the MDC and the people of Zimbabwe in mourning his death.”
Tsvangiari’s death comes amid a feared split in MDC-T, where the party is divided along three factional lines led by its three vice presidents, Dr Thokozani Khupe, Nelson Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri.
The vice presidents are also at loggerheads with the party’s coalition, the MDC Aalliance with six other political parties, which is likely to take a knock.
This would be a blow to the alliance seeing that it is left with only a few months to spare to unite, improve its act, grow support and contest in elections, which are just around the corner in July 2018.
Tsvangirai spent the greater course of his life fighting against Zanu PF and calling for strengthened democracy. A son of a bricklayer, Tsvangirai had no formal education but worked in a nickel mine before joining politics. Tsvangirai was the oldest of nine children where he left school at 16 to help support his family. As a young miner he become a labour activist and rose through the ranks of the Associated Mine Workers Union. In 1988, he was elected secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.
Initially he supported former president Robert Mugabe’s rise to power but became a critic of Zanu PF. In 1999, Tsvangirai was part of the trade unionists who formed the MDC. The MDC had a strong trade union present but was also supported by student groups, women’s movements, churches and other interest groups.
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.
Due to his sickness, the MDC-T leader has not been actively involved in the party for some months now causing some rifts within. Despite the drama in MDC-T, personal woes affected him. His wife, Elizabeth Macheka (41) was recently barred by his family to see him at the hospital where he is admitted, a situation that almost degenerated into a fistfight. Physicians were drawn in to solve the impasse and 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. His 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 was also 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.
Throughout his political career, Tsvangirai experienced challenges that marred his reputation. He presided over two major splits in the MDC. First in 2005 and in 2014, which analysts blame on his “dictatorial tendencies.” His personal life was also not spared as he suffered episodes of embarrassment after his ‘messy love life’ was splashed on national newspapers. Nevertheless, Tsvangirai still commanded more support than other oppositional political figures in the country.