Morgan Tsvangirai, ‘was the enduring face of Zimbabwe’s downtrodden opposition’

February 20, 2018 10:25 pm

Morgan Tsvangirai, who has died after a battle with cancer, was the face of Zimbabwe’s downtrodden opposition for decades.

Jail, beatings by pro-regime thugs and perennial disappointment at the ballot box never dented the 65-year-old’s desire to move the country past the decades of autocratic rule by former president Robert Mugabe and his acolytes.

The leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party (MDC) took his furtive first steps on the country’s complex and sometimes violent political scene as a trade union activist in the 1980s.

He went on to form a unity government with Mugabe after disputed elections in 2008 in which he beat the veteran autocrat – now 93 years old – in the first round of the vote.

But violence against Tsvangirai’s supporters, which he claimed cost 200 lives, prompted him to pull out of the run-off.

Only outside mediation helped put the lid back on Zimbabwe’s fractious politics and usher in a period of power sharing and relative calm.

But Tsvangirai was quickly relegated to junior partner in the coalition and excluded from all major economic and foreign policy decisions, as well as from any debate over the role of the security services.

He faced off against Mugabe three times at the ballot box and had been expected to oppose him once again in presidential elections set for 2018.

“Zanu-PF has not won recent elections, it has rigged them,” Tsvangirai told AFP previously.

“Anyone who is interested in ending Zanu-PF should unite, in spite of ideological differences.”

‘Never break my spirit’

A teetotalling nonsmoker from Zimbabwe’s majority Shona community, Tsvangirai had widely been seen as the best hope for reviving Zimbabwe’s divided politics and moribund economy and was a forceful anti-corruption advocate.

Mugabe’s government detained him on numerous occasions over his vocal criticism of the regime.

Security forces swooped on Tsvangirai in 1989 after he bluntly warned about the rising tide of political repression in the country.

Tsvangirai also claimed to have been the target of four assassination attempts – including one in 1997 in which he said attackers attempted to throw him out of his office window.

His political career almost ground to a halt in 2001 when he was tried over allegations he had conspired to kill Mugabe, levelled by a self-proclaimed ex-Israeli spy. Tsvangirai was eventually cleared.

In March 2007, police violently cracked down on Tsvangirai and dozens of opposition activists when they attempted to stage an anti-government rally.

Images of his bloody, mangled face were seen worldwide, leading to global condemnation of Mugabe and his security forces.

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