Morgan Tsvangirai: The African hero

ZIMBABWEAN’S political horizon has a striking resemblance to that of Nigeria in the sense that there are individuals who by merit ought to have become President of their nations respectively at different epochs but never emerged due to centripetal and centrifugal political forces at play. Kenya has same scenario. 

The Kenyan opposition figure, Raila Odinga, recently made himself President after he was allegedly rigged out of another Presidential race by Uhuru Kenyatta, the scion of the Jomo Kenyatta political leadership.

In Nigeria, Sir Obafemi Awolowo, who for a long time was the political leader of the Yoruba race in Western Nigeria, could not become the Nigerian President even when he worked, dreamt and played active politics all his life to attain this lofty height but died without achieving the dream. Awolowo is reputedly the only Nigerian political force who successfully administered free and qualitative education to his people whilst holding elective office as the Premier of Western Region. Awolowo was the man who first introduced a television station that later metamorphosed into Nigerian Television Authority. Awolowo’s Tribune newspaper is a monumental media institution in Nigeria.  Chief Obafemi Awolowo is generally referred to by some political historians as the best President that Nigeria never had. He was urbane, educated and cerebral. 

In the Southern African nation of Zimbabwe, there is also a man who worked and rose through the ranks as a unionist and contested to become the President of Zimbabwe but was rigged out in his last attempt in 2008. That man who can be called the best President that Zimbabwe never had is Mr. Morgan Tsvangirai who died in a South African hospital on Valentine’s Day. He was urbane, sophisticated, well-travelled and cerebral. 

An online news blog has only but beautiful words on this great statesman as one of the few rare men out of Africa who gave his best to salvage his nation from the oppressive hold of the then dictator, Robert Mugabe.  Born in 1952 to a bricklayer father in drought-prone Buhera, in the southeast of Zimbabwe, Tsvangirai prematurely ended his studies at Gokomere Mission to support his siblings.  The eldest of nine children, Tsvangirai worked at a textile mill in Mutare in the country’s east, and later joined a nickel mine in Bindura, a town in the north.

After Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain in 1980, Tsvangirai became branch chairperson of the National Mine Workers Union, rising through the ranks to become secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) in 1988.  Under his leadership, the labour federation challenged economic policies and a lack of democracy in the 1990s in Zimbabwe, so wrote historians.

As reported then, during the well-co-ordinated and crippling national strikes he led, workers staged street protests against meager salaries, rising inflation, rampant corruption and deepening poverty. He relinquished that post, however, when he formed the Movement for Democratic Change in 1999.  Another commentator in Southern Africa wrote that: “The life and times of Morgan Tsvangirai remains one of the most intriguing and inspiring personal stories of our generation.”

The writer said his courage and tenacity brought the unprecedented advent of open opposition and defiance against the once feared Robert Mugabe regime. 

Indeed, this fast-talking former Union leader, Mr. Morgan Tsvangirai, stood firm at a time when no one else could dare to do so. 

“He personally paid the price of sacrifice for Zimbabwe to be where it is today. Inspired by his courage and rare charisma, thousands of our young people gave up everything (including life and limb) to follow this man and support his vision for a more democratic and peaceful Zimbabwe based on multiparty democracy.”

Political commentators say that Mr. Morgan Tsvangirai’s most illustrious contribution to Zimbabwe was when he gave his 2008 victory for the sake of peace and stability of this great and beloved nation.  According to media reports, the opposition leader who actually won the election but was denied said he would not walk to power over the heads and dead bodies of his supporters. 

“He said they would rather rule illegally than destroy this baby. His rarity is rare, indeed. He has contributed to the peace and stability of this country in many and more ways than our bare and shortsighted eyes can see at the moment.”

A year earlier, in 1998, Tsvangirai became chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly, a position largely seen as recognition for his leadership. His meteoric rise in his political career had been steady, as he became a household name and a symbol of resistance in Zimbabwe with considerable global media focus.

“When hired men unsuccessfully tried to throw him from the 9th floor of his Chester House office in central Harare, the capital, in December 1998, Zimbabwean workers spontaneously downed their tools.”

This man was a powerful public speaker, and had six children with his late wife, Susan, who died in a 2009 car accident. The tabloid reported that his social life at a time posed significant drawbacks to his rising political profile. 

“But his personal life had become a source of some embarrassment for the political leader. In September 2013, he wedded businesswoman, Elizabeth Macheka, 36, but did not sign the legal marriage register due to a legal challenge filed against their union by the PM’s ex-lover, Locardia Karimatsenga.”

The media recounted that erstwhilst Zimbawean President Robert Mugabe, who stepped down in November last year, had campaigned against Tsvangirai’s alleged “immorality”, saying he was not fit to be president.

However, those who should know said that his relentless push for democratic change won Tsvangirai several awards, including an honorary doctorate of Laws from Pai Chai University in South Korea and Solidar Silver Rose award.

Tsvangirai emerged as a powerful public speaker and opposition leader, organizing protests to try to push Mugabe out. Throughout his life, he was jailed several times, charged with treason, and labelled a traitor by Mugabe supporters.

His illustrious democratic credentials are well documented.Specifically, reports have it that in 2008 presidential elections, Tsvangirai was the main challenger to Mugabe and the longtime president’s ZANU-PF party.

Tsvangirai secured 47 percent of the vote in the first round, compared to Mugabe’s 43 percent. But because his victory fell short of the threshold needed to avoid a second round, a runoff was organized.

This fallen African democratic hero has left formidable footprints on the sands of time. He came; he saw and he conquered even without enjoying the political fruits of his labour, his position in the political annals of the African continent is already written in gold. Rest in Peace, great hero of Africa. 

By Emmanuel Onwubiko,

Onwubiko is the Head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA)

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