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Morgan Tsvangirai passes away

Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has passed away in a South African hospital, after a long struggle with cancer. He was 65.

Elias Mudzuri, vice-president of the Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T), announced Tsvangirai’s death on Twitter: “As you are aware that our MDC-T President, Dr Morgan Richard Tsvangirai has not been feeling well for some time, it is sad for me to announce that we have lost our icon and fighter for democracy. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family, the party and the nation at this hour.”

Tsvangirai was a veteran opposition leader, for nearly two decades the most credible threat to the long rule of former President Robert Mugabe. He first ran for president in 2002, before shocking the political establishment by winning the first round of the controversial 2008 election. The violence that followed this vote led to the creation of a government of national unity, in which Tsvangirai served as Prime Minister.

He remained actively involved in politics until his death, and was chosen to serve as president of the MDC Alliance, new opposition coalition. It is unclear who will succeed him as president of the MDC-T and the MDC Alliance.

Tsvangirai had reportedly been in critical condition since early last week, although on 6 February he had sought to reassure supporters that he was on the mend. “I am shocked to read in the press that I am in a critical condition. Of course I have cancer and not feeling too well but I am stable and the process is under control. I have been frequently on Twitter of late, I am recovering,” he said.

David Coltart, a founding member of the Movement for Democratic Change, said: “Tsvangirai will be remembered as one of Zimbabwe’s greatest patriots. He fought a courageous battle over some 3 decades against the Mugabe tyranny. He was a man of great compassion. He wasn’t a racist. He had a vision for a new Zimbabwe that saw beyond race. He had a remarkable ability to interact with presidents and workers. He was also a person with a great sense of humour who could see the funny side of things, even in our darkest days. He will be greatly missed.”

Evan Mawarire, the civil society activist and founder of the #ThisFlag movement, said in a glowing tribute: “Morgan and that initial group of people, who courageously bore the brunt of a brutal regime, began the journey of what we know today as the broader democracy movement in Zimbabwe. I shudder to think what it would have been like for people like me to face Mugabe head on – as I did in recent months – had it not been for people like Morgan, who over the years had worn out the beast called Zanu-PF, ridden by the ruthless dictator and tyrant Mugabe.” 

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Simon Allison
Simon Allison
Simon Allison is the Africa editor of the Mail & Guardian, and the founding editor-in-chief of The Continent. He is a 2021 Young Africa Leadership Initiative fellow.

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