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Morgan Tsvangirai, the flawed political giant who dismantled Zanu-PF's one-party state project

15 Feb 2022 at 12:25hrs | Views
MORGAN Tsvangirai succumbed to cancer on Valentine's Day in 2018. Some remember him as a charismatic trade unionist turned politician who led the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) since its inception in 1999, a man whose service and commitment was anchored on the vision, the principles and values of democracy, a man who dared to take on longtime leader Robert Mugabe.

Others, of course, choose to remember him as the man who advocated for economic sanctions on his country, a man who perhaps failed to comprehend the task at hand for the opposition, squandered public goodwill of the Zimbabwean people, leaving himself obscured from the realities of the struggle against Zanu-PF as a system.

Whatever view one chooses to embrace, there is no denying that he changed the Zimbabwean political landscape. I might not have agreed with his politics, but it is hard to argue against his passion, commitment, fortitude and persistence in embracing the mission that history imposed upon him. He might not have met the full demands that it enjoined him to fulfil, but his bravery was unassailable. He was the "Godfather" of Zimbabwean opposition politics.

At the peak of his career, the self-taught son of a bricklayer served as Prime Minister to Mugabe in a unity government cobbled together after the disputed 2008 elections. His presence helped stabilise the economy. A hefty electoral defeat in 2013, blamed in part on Tsvangirai's involvement in sex scandals, put paid to his dream of one day leading Zimbabwe, and three years later he revealed he was being treated for colon cancer.

Criticised for his growing fondness for the trappings of power and failing to make a significant impact in the office of Prime Minister, Tsvangirai emerged from office a diminished figure. When he became Prime Minister under the power-sharing agreement brokered by neighbouring South Africa, the pact and his new job diminished his ability to oppose Mugabe, even as he accused Mugabe of flouting their agreement. It appeared he had been outwitted and co-opted by the Mugabe, his former sworn enemy. Indeed, Tsvangirai seemed to settle into a more comfortable relationship with him, built on the privileges of office.

Tsvangirai nonetheless dominated the fractured opposition in Zimbabwe until his death. The opposition leader had developed a reputation as a tenacious, courageous opponent of misrule.

The former trade union leader's career was defined by his many tussles with Mugabe who was ousted in a military coup in December 2017. During their time in power together, the two men developed an uneasy working relationship, squabbling frequently but also taking afternoon tea every Monday. Tsvangirai however proved no match for Mugabe's political maneuvering, which drew on his record as a leader in the struggle against white minority rule and his ability to marshal support from regional and broader African political forces.

Mugabe frequently inveighed against Britain, the former colonial power, and depicted his adversaries, including Tsvangirai, as puppets of the country's former imperial overlords.

Tsvangirai's leadership and adherence to constitutionalism was often questionable. In 2005, he overruled a decision by the party's leadership to take part in elections for the senate and ordered a boycott, leading to a split – perhaps the one that ensured he died without seeing his dream of leading Zimbabwe come true. Under his leadership, the MDC was increasingly intolerant of criticism and not democratic in its inner workings. A leaked US diplomatic cable described him as "a flawed figure, not readily open to advice, indecisive and with questionable judgment."

Reluctance to relinquish power is a widespread problem among African chiefs of state and that reluctance did not avoid the opposition strongman, even as he fell ill with cancer he failed to groom a successor and left behind a fractured party.

The old left will perhaps disdainfully regard him as too much of a moderate centrist, the right wing will continue to view his unionist genealogy and social democratic tendencies with suspicion and the nationalists will condemn him to have been the arch-disciple of colonial interests and white monopoly capital. His path into the foreground of Zimbabwean politics is characterised by successes, failures, shortcomings and controversies.

I believe, however, Tsvangirai will best be remembered for leading the struggle to reform Zimbabwe's politics, currently in the tight grip of independence war veterans who feel a strong sense of entitlement but lack the competence of modern statecraft. He was and still is the face of opposition politics, the man who dismantled Zanu-PF's one-party state project.

Rest in eternal peace, Save.

Itai M.P. Choto Itai is a politial analyst and trade and investment expert in Commonwealth markets with primary focus on Sub Saharan Africa

Source - zimlive
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