Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, has died. The former trade unionist died aged 65. He had been suffering from colon cancer. His condition deteriorated rapidly in recent days. He was receiving treatment from South Africa at the time of his death.
The Guardian of UK reports his death will be a major blow to the opposition in Zimbabwe, coming only months before the first elections were due to be held since the end of Robert Mugabe’s nearly four-decade rule last year.
Reportedly, three deputies and other party officials have been positioning themselves to succeed the founder of the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), at the helm.
The party will have to choose a new leader and launch a campaign against a resurgent Zanu-PF, the ruling party, to contest polls that may be held as early as May, reports The Guardian.
Tsvangirai was known for his long and sometimes bloodied political battle against Robert Mugabe, the former guerrilla leader who had run Zimbabwe with an iron fist since independence from Britain in 1980 until last November.
The oldest of nine children, Tsvangirai left school at 16 to help support his family, reports The Guardian. 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 (ZCTU), the overarching body of the country’s labour movement.
In 1999, Tsvangirai founded the MDC. He came close to winning power in parliamentary elections in 2000 and in a presidential vote in 2002.
The MDC won the first round of elections in 2008 in the face of a vicious state campaign of violence against party workers and supporters. The MDC eventually joined a unity government that lasted until the 2013 election, which Mugabe won.
Criticised for his obvious affection for the outward trappings of power and failure to make a significant impact in the office of prime minister, Tsvangirai emerged from office a diminished figure. A leaked US diplomatic cable described him as “a flawed figure, not readily open to advice, indecisive and with questionable judgment”.