Grief as Zimbabwe opposition icon Tsvangirai dies

2018-02-15 17:28
Morgan Tsvangirai, the veteran Zimbabwean opposition leader who fought Robert Mugabe's regime for many years, died on February 14, 2018 after battling against cancer. (File: AFP)

Morgan Tsvangirai, the veteran Zimbabwean opposition leader who fought Robert Mugabe's regime for many years, died on February 14, 2018 after battling against cancer. (File: AFP)

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Harare - Zimbabwe was plunged into grief on Thursday following the death of veteran opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, roundly praised as a hero, champion of democracy and symbol of resistance who will be hard to replace.

The former trade union stalwart who posed the most formidable challenge to the ruling Zanu PF party's nearly four-decade hold on power, died on Wednesday in a hospital in neighbouring South Africa where he was being treated for colon cancer.

He was 65.

Zimbabwe's new President Emmerson Mnangagwa lauded his party's arch-rival as "a strong trade unionist and opposition leader" and vowed free elections in honour of Tsvangirai who was assaulted, jailed and humiliated under his Zanu-PF government.

"We remember him for his insistence on free, fair and peaceful elections which we must validate in the forthcoming" elections "in tribute to him and to our democracy," said Mnangagwa.

"This we owe him as political leaders of all contesting parties in our country which deserves unfettered peace and stability," he said.

Tsvangirai's death firmly places Mnangagwa, the Zanu-PF veteran who took over after ousting veteran ruler Robert Mugabe, on the path to victory in elections that are to be held before July.

Infighting over who will succeed Tsvangirai is threatening to tear his opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party apart.

 Symbol of resistance 

One of his three deputies Nelson Chamisa said in a post on twitter that the demise of Tsvangirai "is a huge blow to the party and the nation. As a party of excellence, we will unite, be disciplined and honour our hero".

David Coltart, a fellow opposition leader said Tsvangirai will be remembered as "one of Zimbabwe's greatest patriots" and that he deserves to be called a "hero".

Mnangagwa and his deputy retired General Constantino Chiwenga said officials were talking to Tsvangirai's family to see how the government could give him a "befitting honour".

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Mnangagwa said he will remember Tsvangirai "especially for his readiness to stretch and reach out across the political divide for a government of national unity after the polarising 2008 election".

"A Mountain Has Fallen" was the headline in the privately-owned daily The Daily News.

Supporters and officials from the MDC gathered at the party headquarters in downtown Harare reminiscing about the man who came closest to ending Mugabe's stranglehold on power.

"The nation has lost an icon. We have lost our father," Lilian Timveos, an MDC senator told AFP, while battling to hold back tears.

"He was a visionary leader. His legacy will live on forever. My heart is tattered and torn."

Some supporters drove around the city centre playing party music honouring Tsvangirai.

Hair salon owner Batsirai Tambaoga said Tsvangirai's death was a blow that had shattered the opposition ahead of general elections in a few month's time.

"His death is a shattering blow especially with the elections coming soon," Tambaoga said. "It will be difficult to fill the gap he has left. He did a great job and deserves national hero status."

 'A mountain has fallen' 

Bookseller and party supporter Patrick Tasi said: "We have lost a hero. He stood firm and on the side of the people when the dictatorship was at it's most dangerous."

Thandi Moyana, 25, an accountant in the second city of Bulawayo said Tsvangirai "taught everyone about fighting on and soldiering for what is right".

The European Union said in a statement that Tsvangirai will be remembered as "a courageous man who... stood up for multi-party democracy and justice".

Tsvangirai was beaten up by state security agents and incarcerated several times both as a trade union chief and opposition leader.

In one instance he appeared in court wearing a torn shirt with a swollen eye and gash on his head after being beaten up for organising a prayer rally in 2007.

The following year he defeated Mugabe in the first round of general elections, barely missing the majority vote required to be declared the ultimate winner.

He was forced to pull out of the run-off election, citing a flare up in violence which claimed the lives of at least 200 of his supporters.

In 2009 he went into a power-sharing government with Mugabe, serving as prime minister until elections in 2013.

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