We join millions of Zimbabweans, Africans and the democratic community worldwide to mourn the passing of the former Prime Minister of Zimbabwe and the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Mr. Morgan Tsvangirai, whose death signals the end of an era in Zimbabwean politics.
He was diagnosed with colon cancer two years ago and had gone to a Johannesburg Hospital for treatment, where he eventually died. He was 65. His body was repatriated from South Africa and taken to his country home in Humanikwa Village, Buhera District, Southwest Zimbabwe, where he was buried like a hero.
Tsvangirai did not achieve the ultimate wish of most democracy-loving Zimbabweans who would have loved him to replace President Robert Mugabe. He will always be remembered for his courage. He spoke up when everyone kept quiet, when others feared to confront the dictator. He braved the risk when criticizing Mugabe required an exercise of extreme circumspection, for it meant putting his life on the line. At his burial, a grateful nation, and the “red army” of hundreds of thousands of MDC supporters, paid their final respects to a man who symbolised the nation’s struggle against tyranny.
Among those at the graveside was the former Prime Minister of Kenya, Raila Odinga, who described him as a “great African hero.” In May 2008, Odinga had come to urge him to contest the election run-off against Mugabe. He never did. Odinga delivered a remarkable oration in which he warned Africa of the dangers of rigged elections and why no effort should be spared to ensure clear and transparent elections in Africa. “Morgan’s election victory was stolen a year after mine was stolen in Kenya.”
Tsvangirai had humble beginnings, the eldest of nine children of a father who was a communal farmer as well as a mine worker, carpenter and a bricklayer. He completed his primary education, and attended the Gokomere High School where he finished in 1972 with eight school certificate papers and subsequently got a job as a trainee weaver. Two years later, he applied and got a job in the mines where he spent nine years rising to be a supervisor. He was married in 1978 and had six children with this first wife, Susan, who died in a tragic car crash in 2009.
His political activism followed his entry into the trade union movement. At Zimbabwe’s independence, Tsvangirai was an ardent supporter of Zanu-PF. But by 1988 he had became the leader of the Zimbabwe Trade Union Congress. As he rose in the labour movement, the more he disagreed with the government of President Mugabe. And the more he disagreed, the more he was persecuted.
His first record of being arrested was in October 2000 when he was accused of threatening President Mugabe with violence. In 2003 he was again arrested after his press conference and detained for allegedly threatening violence. In 2007, he was not only arrested, his body guard was killed. In 2008, the year of his ultimate political showdown with Mugabe, he was again arrested for addressing a gathering without prior authorization.
By 2008, Robert Mugabe’s control of Zimbabwe had all the appearances of an autocratic kingdom. Everyone in Zimbabwe was overawed by Mugabe. But Morgan Tsvangirai dared the lion, and all the handwriting on the wall was that time was up for Robert Mugabe.
When the votes were counted, the Tsvangirai’s MDC took 47.8 per cent to Mugabe’s ZANU-PF’s 43.2 per cent. Both scoring under 50 per cent, a run-off was required by the constitution, although it was clear to the world that Mugabe had lost. The election umpire took more than a month to release these results raising suspicions that they had been doctored as the MDC alleged. Political violence was of such a scale that Tsvingarai had to flee to South Africa for his safety, and after surveying the environment, he declined to participate in the run-off.
In 2005, Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan stated that his “political ambition is not worth a drop of blood of any Nigerian.” Morgan Tsvangirai did it first. “I don’t want to get to the top on the heads and dead bodies of my supporters.” Farewell, statesman.