The story of Morgan Tsvangirai’s struggle to lift his beloved people of Zimbabwe out of despotic reign and shackles of self-imposed impoverishment and political megalomania is one that left a sad taste in the mouth.
From his meteoric rise in the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) to his ascendancy as the undisputed leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), one thing that cannot be taken away from him was his undying passion for Zimbabwe. His death came when his experience would have helped the nation navigate the instability Zimbabwe had been thrown in by its longest-serving president, Robert Mugabe.
The Republic of Zimbabwe, originally known as Southern Rhodesia, a beautiful country in southern Africa once described by its admirers as “the Jewel of Africa” for its prosperity and beautiful landscape, became a pariah nation after years of authoritarian rule by the mercurial ruler, Robert Mugabe who interestingly was a darling of many before his ascension to political office.
Mugabe spent close to eleven years as a political prisoner under Ian Smith’s Rhodesian government. It could be theorized that his ideology and views about life changed remarkably in the prison where he earned various degrees through correspondence and adopted Marxist views.
He also became radicalized after befriending contacts from Asia and Eastern Europe. The rest is history. In 2017 when his government was toppled, approximately 2.3 million Zimbabweans were living in extreme poverty and Zimbabwe’s economy in utter ruins.
Meanwhile, in 1980 when Zimbabwe was officially granted independence by the British, Morgan Tsvangirai was 28 years old, and an ardent Mugabe ally and believer in Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party. One thing Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai shared in common apart from the zeal to see Zimbabwe achieve complete political emancipation was the fact that both their fathers were carpenters.
Tsvangirai’s dint of hard work and untiring passion for a better Zimbabwe saw him rise through the ranks to become one of the party’s senior officials. He was also a prominent figure and leader of the Zimbabwean Trade Union Movement.
However, the massacre of Gukurahundi masterminded by Mugabe, the divergence in political views and Mugabe’s poor human rights record and arguably, Tsvangirai’s political ambition soon led to a break in the relationship between Mugabe and Tsvangirai. Tsvangirai emerged years later as the leader of the opposition in Zimbabwe and a thorn in the flesh of Mugabe.
Morgan Tsvangirai suffered untold hardship as a result of his views and agitation for a better Zimbabwe. He was imprisoned several times and tortured a number of times. He was ready to die for what he stood for. In this sense, he could be compared to heroic names in African history such as Nelson Mandela, Patrice Lumumba, Thomas Sankara, Gani Fawehinmi and a few others.
In 2007, he was severely tortured by the agents of Mugabe’s tyranny such that he suffered a fractured skull and internal bleeding. He was beaten, together with some other members of the MDC with gun butts, belts and whips. Yet, he remained steadfast to his beliefs, commitment and vision for a better Zimbabwe.
He contested for the highest office in the land and was close to becoming the president in 2008 when he won the highest votes in the election. He didn’t secure the outright majority of 50% which led to the call for a re-run election that he boycotted as a result of threats to his life and his supporters. In 2009, he succumbed to a power-sharing formula with Robert Mugabe and became the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe.
In spite of his patriotism and steadfastness to a greater Zimbabwe, Tsvangirai was accused by his party members and critics alike of incompetence in power, falling for the trappings of power, autocratic leadership style and his involvement in sex scandals. During his time in office, he developed a frosty relationship with Mugabe and Mugabe’s cronies and his mission died on February 14, 2018, when he succumbed to colon cancer which was diagnosed some months earlier.
Morgan Tsvangirai is dead but his legacies remain. Whatever freedom an ordinary Zimbabwean enjoys today cannot be totally detached from his stance and fight against tyranny and despotism. He stood for equality before the law, democracy and rule of law. He tread where others dread. He was ready to lose his life for Zimbabwe. Indeed, he would be placed on the better side of Zimbabwean history and will be remembered as the president Zimbabwe never had.