Morgan Tsvangirai: Mugabe’s Most Prominent Challenger

Morgan Tvangirai

Morgan Tsvangirai passed away on Wednesday 14th February 2018 following a two-year battle with colon cancer. Tsvangirai was for a long time Robert Mugabe’s most prominent challenger.

The opposition leader came from humble beginnings. He was the son of a bricklayer, a former miner and a unionist. In 1997, Tsvangirai led strikes against tax increases and on two occasions forced Mugabe to withdraw his announcement of tax hikes. This was a rare setback and a challenge to Mugabe’s power who almost always enjoyed complete political control. Through his union successes, Tsvangirai in 2000 helped with the founding of the labour backed Movement of Democratic Change (MDC) which instantly made him Zimbabwe’s most prominent opposition leader. Tsvangirai for a brief period (2009-2013) became the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe in an uncomfortable coalition government.  In January 2018, Tsvangirai suggested that he would be stepping down and that the older generation needed to give way to the younger generation to tackle the mammoth task of positively changing Zimbabwe.

Tsvangirai’s death has been met with an outpouring of grief from the public and has left a power struggle in the MDC where senior officials are now fighting to lead the party. The election of the 40-year-old Nelson Chamisa as acting president has angered the rival faction which is led by the party’s vice presidents, Elias Madzuri and Thokozani Khupe.

Being Robert Mugabe’s most prominent and outspoken opponent came at a high cost for Tsvangirai who was jailed several times and charged with treason. In 2007 for example, he suffered a fractured skull and internal bleeding when he along with other leaders of his party were arrested and brutally beaten. His courage earned him a positive image in the West from dominant figures such as the then Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard who in 2012 likened him to pro-democracy figureheads such as Nelson Mandela and Aung Sun Suu Kyi.

From those who knew him well, Tsvangirai was far from perfect. In a diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks in 2009, former U.S ambassador Christopher Dell described Tsvangirai as a “flawed figure” who was indecisive, not open to receiving advice and had questionable judgement. For critics such as Dell, their reluctance to support Tsvangirai was proved correct when his 2013 electoral defeat demonstrated that the electorate did not feel that he should be given credit for Zimbabwe’s economic turnaround.

Although clearly a flawed character, it goes without saying that Tsvangirai demonstrated serious courage in a country where many have been too afraid to do so. With that, one can only hope that the electorate in the coming elections selects a leader who best serves their interests and rebuilds Zimbabwe.


Featured image– Morgan Tsvangirai, Prime Minister of Zimbabwe at the World Economic Forum on Africa 2013 | World Economic Forum : flickr

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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