Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai dies at 65

FILE - In this Wednesday, March, 9, 2016 file photo, Morgan Tsvangirai, center, one of the main opposition leaders in Zimbabwe addresses a crowd taking part in a demonstration of activist Itai Dzamara in Harare. Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has died at age 65, party spokesman says. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, file)
FILE - In this Tuesday, Nov, 21, 2017 file photo, Morgan Tsvangirai, the main opposition leader in Zimbabwe addresses protestors outside parliament building in Harare. Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has died at age 65, party spokesman said on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, file)
FILE -- In this Nov. 30, 2016 file photo, Zimbabwe's main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is photographed during an interview with the Associated Press in Harare. Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has died at age 65, party spokesman said on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, File)
FILE - In this Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017 file photo, Zimbabwe's main opposition party leader Morgan Tsvangirai pauses as he addresses supporters at a rally in Harare. Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has died at age 65, party spokesman said on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, file)

JOHANNESBURG — Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai died Wednesday at age 65, ending a long campaign to lead his country that brought him jailings, beatings and accusations of treason.

Tsvangirai died Wednesday evening in a Johannesburg hospital, said Elias Mudzuri, a vice president of the Movement for Democratic Change party. The opposition leader had been battling colon cancer for two years.

Tsvangirai for years was longtime ruler Robert Mugabe's most potent challenger and even became prime minister in an uncomfortable coalition government for a few years. Mugabe, 93 and in power for 37 years, resigned in November after pressure from the military and ruling party.

In January, the ailing Tsvangirai suggested that he would be stepping down, saying he was "looking at the imminent prospects of us as the older generation leaving the levers of leadership to allow the younger generation to take forward this huge task."

His death leaves the opposition in disarray just months before national elections. An opposition alliance had endorsed him as its candidate, even as his deputies tussled to act as party leader while he was out of the country for treatment.

Those power struggles are now likely to intensify, which may give an edge to the ruling party, ZANU-PF, and its candidate, President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

"We are still mourning. This is not the time to talk about that," MDC party spokesman Obert Gutu said.

Tsvangirai came tantalizingly close to the presidency in 2008 when he won the most votes in the election. But the results, delayed nearly a month as Mugabe's officials "verified" the count, gave him just 47 percent, shy of the more than 50 percent majority needed to win outright. Tsvangirai boycotted the runoff, citing widespread violence against his supporters, handing Mugabe the victory.

Negotiations then led to the coalition government, an uneasy alliance that ended in 2013 when Mugabe won elections amid charges of intimidation and rigging.

Being Mugabe's most prominent opponent brought Tsvangirai considerable hardship. He was jailed several times and charged with treason. He suffered a fractured skull and internal bleeding when he and more than a dozen other leaders of his party were arrested and beaten with gun butts, belts and whips in 2007.

In an earlier incident Tsvangirai was almost thrown from his office window by a government agent.

"Morgan Tsvangirai will be remembered as one of Zimbabwe's great patriots," opposition figure and human rights lawyer David Coltart said Wednesday night. "Although, like all of us, he made mistakes none of us ever doubted his commitment to transform Zimbabwe into a modern, tolerant state."

Born March 10, 1952 in the rural Buhera area southeast of the capital, Harare, Tsvangirai was the oldest of nine children. After graduation from secondary school he worked at the Bindura Nickel Mine for 10 years, eventually becoming plant supervisor. It was during the years of the nationalist war against white minority-ruled Rhodesia. Tsvangirai later said he did not join the guerrilla fighters because his salary supported the education of his younger siblings.

When Zimbabwe became independent in 1980, Tsvangirai joined Mugabe's ZANU-PF party and became active in trade unions, rising to become secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. The labor organization had been a rubber stamp supporter of Mugabe and ZANU-PF, but under Tsvangirai's leadership it became a vocal critic of Mugabe's government.

The labor federation became a key component of an emerging network of anti-government civil society groups including lawyers, students and churches demanding an end to worsening human rights abuses and deepening economic problems.

In 1999 he founded the MDC, which attracted support from blacks and whites and in rural and urban areas. The party quickly became a serious challenge to Mugabe's party.

Tsvangirai was also leader of the National Constitutional Assembly, a coalition of civil society groups that successfully campaigned in a 2000 referendum against a new constitution they alleged gave Mugabe too many powers. Most of the organization's leaders joined Tsvangirai's MDC.

Nine months after its formation, the MDC won 57 seats in parliament, five short of the ruling party's 62, the first time Mugabe's party came close to losing its parliamentary majority.

Tsvangirai then continued for years as the country's opposition leader, facing significant repression from Mugabe and ZANU-PF.

Shortly after becoming prime minister in 2009, Tsvangirai suffered a serious blow when his wife, Susan, died when the car they were travelling in overturned. Without his wife, Tsvangirai lost domestic stability and became involved in romances that were widely publicized by the Zimbabwean press.

His time as prime minister was criticized as being marked by his search for a new wife and also by his enjoyment of the trappings of power, but Tsvangirai was also credited with encouraging stability, civility and international goodwill. His long struggle as Mugabe's main challenger was credited with helping to keep a measure of democratic space open in Zimbabwe.

"Thank you for making it possible for people like me to find the courage to say enough is enough," said pastor Evan Mawarire, who led large anti-government protests in 2016. "Zimbabwe owes you a great debt."


This story was corrected to show that Tsvangirai successfully campaigned against Mugabe's constitutional referendum in 2000.

Must Read

Turkish, Russian officials to discuss solution for Syria

Aug 10, 2016

Turkey's foreign minister says Turkish foreign ministry, military and intelligence officials will travel to Russia for discussions on finding a solution to the Syria conflict

If Trump can't get along with GOP, how will he govern?

Aug 9, 2016

Beyond the political fallout from Donald Trump's rocky relationship with party elders lies a fundamental reality: Should he win the presidency, the brash billionaire will have to work closely with the same GOP leaders he vilified on the campaign trail

Zambia voting for president amid unprecedented violence

Aug 10, 2016

Zambia, former 'model for Africa,' votes for president amid striking political violence

People also read these

'American Crime Story' writers focusing on Hurricane Katrina

Aug 10, 2016

An executive producer behind 'American Crime Story,' the anthology series for FX, says they're taking 'great care' with casting of the season which will focus on Hurricane Katrina

Rio authorities step up security after bus windows shattered

Aug 10, 2016

Military police in Rio de Janeiro are stepping up security at the Olympics after a bus carrying journalists had two of its windows shattered by a projectile and a bullet flew into the stables of the equestrian venue

Criticism of lavish funeral for Anne of Romania

Aug 10, 2016

The presidents of Romania and Moldova pay their last respects to Anne of Romania at a 19th-century royal castle amid some criticism about the grand royal funeral

Weather, 20 December
Houston Weather

High: +11° Low: -2°

Humidity: 83%

Wind: NNE - 7 KPH

Canberra Weather

High: +27° Low: +17°

Humidity: 87%

Wind: W - 20 KPH

Roissy-en-France Weather

High: +6° Low: -5°

Humidity: 87%

Wind: ENE - 7 KPH

Florence Weather

High: +9° Low: +6°

Humidity: 97%

Wind: ENE - 17 KPH

Parga Weather

High: +16° Low: +4°

Humidity: 100%

Wind: SE - 25 KPH