JOHANNESBURG – Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai died on Wednesday in South Africa after a long battle with cancer, the vice-president of his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party said.
“I can confirm that he died this evening. The family communicated this to me,” Elias Mudzuri told Reuters.
Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s most famous opposition leader and rival of ousted president Robert Mugabe, was 65 when he died at an unnamed hospital in Pretoria just after 8pm on Wednesday.
Tsvangirai had been in the midst of a long battle with colon cancer and, only last month, the Zimbabwean government took over his medical bills as part of a package linked to his tenur as prime minister during the inclusive government of 2009 to 2013.
His wife, Elizabeth Macheka, and acting MDC-T president Elias Mudzuri confirmed the news as it started trickling in on social media.
His death comes amid a succession tussle within his party. One of the party’s vice-presidents, Nelson Chamisa, called for an extraordinary national executive committee meeting, the agenda of which was to retire Tsvangirai on medical grounds.
Tsvangirai was born in Buhera, Manicaland, on March 10 1952, as the first of nine children. At Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, he joined Zanu-PF led by Mugabe, the man who would become his erstwhile political rival with the formation of the MDC in 1999.
He cut his teeth in politics as the leader of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU). After the turn of the millennium, the MDC became the fiercest opposition in the Southern African country and, in 2008, Tsvangirai beat Mugabe in a presidential poll – but fell short of the required majority.
Thereafter, a violence-filled run-off ensured and Tsvangirai fled to Botswana while Mugabe went it alone. However, he was forced into a power-sharing pact that was facilitated by President Jacob Zuma at the behest of the Southern African Development Community.