Our pillar amid calamity

On March 6 Professor Welshman Ncube and I drove into the Tsvangirai family residence in Strathaven, Harare. As usual we were ushered into the home office and were warmly welcomed by Susan. She was in her usual affable mood as she poked fun at our recent appointments to Cabinet.
It was a Friday afternoon; she was very relaxed, dressed in a traditional headscarf, flat shoes and a matronly outfit, clearly ready for the weekend trip to the family’s rural home.

As our meeting went on Susan continued with the business of packing and organising for the weekend trip. We eventually left around 3.30pm and I did not get a chance to say goodbye as I rushed off to another engagement. Two hours later she was dead.

How do I begin to explain who Susan Tsvangirai was?

I first met Susan Nyaradzo Tsvangirai at the birth of the constitutional movement when Morgan Tsvangirai was the secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. At the time Susan was no longer formally employed, nor was she a retiring housewife. She had made a conscious choice to support her husband actively in the development of the constitutional movement that led to the growth of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). She was an activist and a feminist, whose choice it was to support and assist her husband in his rise to leadership in Zimbabwe.

Susan became the ever-present but unassuming partner of Morgan during the democratic struggle. As the constitutional movement grew and the MDC was born, there were innumerable opportunities for Susan to develop her own separate brand as a political figure in Zimbabwe, but she made a deliberate decision to stand behind Morgan and further his political career.

Never one to speak in public or advance political opinions, it was always clear that Susan understood the political terrain, debate and issues both within the party and at a national level. This she did without conspicuously calling the shots or revealing herself as the drive behind Morgan’s resolve.

Yet it was also always very clear that Morgan valued her opinions and insights and consulted her in his deliberations. As a result, she attended many MDC meetings and was present at high-level engagements with world leaders, where her unobtrusive presence served to provide Morgan with moral support.

Susan was a bedrock not only for Morgan but also for the MDC family. I remember her eerie sense of calm in the midst of calamity and confusion. When Morgan was almost thrown out of a window of the high-rise Chester Building in 1999 the sense of shock and panic among us and the nation was almost crippling. Yet Susan was unruffled, and brought a focus and calm to the party, centring all of us at a time when the incident had thrown us into disarray.

When treason charges were laid against Morgan and his trial eventually began, Susan retained her calm. She would often be caught with a quiet smile on her face, instantly reassuring the multitude of worried supporters. Her sense of calm was her way of showing the world that she believed that everything would turn out all right.

I don’t ever remember seeing Susan agitated, angry or weepy during the almost 15 years I knew her. Even when Morgan was severely assaulted in 2007 and his life was in real danger, Susan exhibited resolute strength and calm. In the trying times of immense political tensions between 2007 and 2008, she proved again and again to be an anchor for the party and her husband.

Zimbabwe has lost not just a prime minister’s wife or the wife of the opposition party leader. I know that Morgan has lost more than a wife, a life-long companion and the mother of his children. We have all lost our pillar, our bedrock.

Therefore delving into the various theories about what may have brought about her death would not be honouring the life of this amazing woman. Because in everything she did, she sought to provide Morgan with a steady calm to go forth and fulfil his destiny. She lived as she died, beside her husband, quietly and never taking the limelight away from him.

Priscillah Misihairabwi-Mushonga is an MP for the MDC-Mutambara and the minister of regional integration and international cooperation in the Zimbabwean government

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