Face of opposition politics

FROM the days of Rhodesia to Zimbabwe, the landlocked country between the mighty Zambezi and Limpopo rivers has been dominated by three men.

BY RICHARD CHIDZA

At the top are two of whom led the country: Ian Smith presided over Rhodesia from 1965 to 1979 before handing over power to Robert Mugabe, who led with an iron fist for the next 37 years before a military-backed Zanu PF internal revolt brought his dictatorship to an abrupt end only exactly three months ago.

While Mugabe was using all manner of political shenanigans to cement his stranglehold on power in the early to mid-1980s, including genocide, now commonly known as the Gukurahundi episode, one man was carving his niche as a rising political force quietly through the country’s then innocuous trade union movement.

A year after Mugabe forced then opposition leader Joshua Nkomo’s capitulation and into signing a unity agreement to end the massacre of over
20 000 civilians in the western regions of Zimbabwe under the guise of hunting down a handful of armed dissidents, Morgan Richard Tsvangirai “was persuaded” into taking up the position of secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) in 1988 having risen from being a “tea-boy”.

He was a card holder of Mugabe’s Zanu party, but ironically was to morph into his greatest political adversary as years went by.

After years of trying to foist on Zimbabwe a socialist ideology fused with communist dogma borrowed from both the Chinese and Russian models, Mugabe was forced by changing political fortunes to adopt Bretton Woods sponsorship, and thus began his open disagreements with Tsvangirai as workers bore the brunt of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programmes (ESAP).

ESAP failed dismally more because Mugabe lacked the political gravitas to push through with what he had agreed with the international lenders, but political opposition at home remained at best lukewarm besides spirited attempts from the likes of liberation war hero Edgar Tekere who had been kicked out by Mugabe in the late 80s.

Mugabe won the 1995 election with a canter, but the ZCTU began ramping up pressure demanding reforms in both the economy and political playfield.

Tsvangirai was at the forefront calling for roaring mass stay-aways that brought Zimbabwe to a standstill particularly in 1997.

Shops were looted and business suffered by the message had been send, Mugabe’s iron-grip on the levers of power in Zimbabwe had been challenged for the first time and Tsvangirai turned into a household name, inspiring the first signs of revulsion across the country to Mugabe’s excesses.

The demand for political reforms led to the formation of the National Constitutional Assembly by civil society with a mandate to demand for a new Constitution.

Tsvangirai was elected its first leader between 1997-1999, Mugabe was watching and, at some point, there was an assassination attempt on the trade unionist after members of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) reportedly tried to throw him out of a high-rise building in Harare through a window.

Workers’ Day rallies turned into platforms for Tsvangirai to attack Mugabe’s policies and the failure of his regime. In May 1998, after another attack, Mugabe had had enough and dared Tsvangirai to join politics if he so wished than continue to rant from the “safety of trade unionism”.

To Mugabe’s surprise, the invitation was gleefully accepted and the ZCTU, with help from the Zimbabwe National Students’ Union and employers fed-up with Mugabe’s archaic policies, triggered plans to form a labour-based political party. Tsvangirai was the natural choice and in
September 1999, the MDC was launched amid pomp-and fanfare at the historic Rufaro Stadium.

At the launch of the party, Tsvangirai said of the new challenge: “That paradigm shift involves the issue of building a democratic people’s resistance movement and other options available democratically and that elections are not just exclusive to the achievement of that objective.”
In early 2000, Tsvangirai led opposition to Mugabe’s bid to foist on Zimbabweans a draft Constitution crafted by his government. The draft constitution was rejected in one of Mugabe’s greatest humiliations on the political playfield.

Tsvangirai led the MDC to parliamentary elections in 2000, in which the party garnered 57 out of 120 seats then on offer, despite Mugabe’s regime using violence, coercion and intimidation to retain power in an achievement that shook the foundations of the country’s political establishment.
At the party’s first anniversary, Tsvangirai, emboldened by his party’s election success, began agitating for Mugabe’s removal with presidential elections then due only two years away. “The time for mass action is now. We say to (President) Robert Mugabe, if you don’t want to go peacefully, we will remove you violently,” the popular opposition leader said.

It was a statement for which he was to be arrested years later and that Zanu PF was to use to project the MDC as a violent party in the ensuing two decades.

But Tsvangirai had announced his arrival on the political scene. Mugabe took note and sponsored the violent seizure of white-owned farms as he sought to retain power at all costs.

A few days before the presidential elections in 2002, Tsvangirai was arrested and charged with treason for allegedly having approached an Israeli company named Dickens and Madison, led by a former spy Ari Ben Menashe, in a sinister plot to unseat Mugabe by unconstitutional means.
Meanwhile, the country’s military generals, led by the Commander Defence Forces Vitalis Zvinavashe, in a chilling address to the country on the eve of the watershed poll, declared: “Let it be known that the highest office in the land is a straightjacket whose occupant is expected to observe the objectives of the liberation struggle.

“We will, therefore, not accept, let alone support or salute, anyone with a different agenda that threatens the very existence of our sovereignty, our country and our people.”

Zvinavashe declared this in a televised addressed flanked by other generals from then Army Commander Constantino Chiwenga, Air Force of Zimbabwe Commander Air Marshall Perrance Shiri, former CIO director-general Happyton Bonyongwe, then Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri and the Commissioner of Prisons Paradzayi Zimondi.

Tanks rolled into Zimbabwe’s cities and Mugabe forced through another electoral “fraud” that was rejected across the globe. Mugabe trudged on, but was slapped with international travel sanctions, while his government and close lieutenants have since found it difficult to transact globally.

Tsvangirai was acquitted of the treason charge and went about building his party into a formidable political force and turning his name into some mythical ideology of sorts.

His MDC party, however, was rocked by internal disagreements in 2005 over participation in senatorial elections, leading to the infamous October 12 split with then secretary-general Welshman Ncube that year.

However Tsvangirai remained the country’s foremost opposition voice to Mugabe despite his party not doing well in 2005 elections.

In between, Tsvangirai was bashed, arrested, his supporters killed, maimed and abducted in an orgy of continuing violence by Mugabe’s regime.

Things came to a head in March 2007 after security details broke up a Save Zimbabwe prayer meeting before the murder of an activist Gift Tandare, who was gunned down in the sprawling political hotbed of Highfield in Harare.

Tsvangirai was abducted along with other leading opposition figures, beaten up and left for dead and pictures of a blood-spattered opposition lead drew world-wide condemnation. Regional leaders stepped in and called for a series of meetings to discuss the crisis in Zimbabwe led by then South African President Thabo Mbeki.

Mugabe was forced to agree to an early general election in 2008 and in one of the most defining moments in Zimbabwe’s political history, Tsvangirai delivered Mugabe’s first electoral defeat since majority rule from Britain.

Results for the presidential poll were delayed by five weeks and when authorities finally made them public, it was claimed the MDC-T leader had won, but failed to garner enough votes to wrest power.

A run-off was called, but Tsvangirai pulled out at the eleventh hour citing systemic State sponsored violence that led to the murder of more than 300 opposition supporters. After months of negotiations, Mbeki brokered a peace deal in Zimbabwe leading to the formation of national unity government.

Tsvangirai was appointed Prime Minister and his goodwill with Zimbabweans and the international community led to overnight change in the fortunes of the country’s economy.

The coalition government governed until 2013 when elections were held and Mugabe, once again with help from an Israeli company known as Nikuv Projects, stole his way to victory and Tsvangirai refused to concede defeat, but Mugabe was sworn in as President.

The MDC-T split after the electoral charade but Tsvangirai ever the pragmatist pushed on demanding reforms and Mugabe’s resignation. Tsvangirai demanded that the military be reformed because it had wormed its way into the country’s toxic political arena.

Mugabe did not take heed and last November, fell at the sword of his own creation. The military placed him under house arrest, paving the way for the rise of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

However, as Zimbabweans continued to pin their hopes for a democratic transfer of power on Tsvangirai, the veteran opposition leader in June 2016 announced he had cancer of the colon.

From then, it was downhill and on February 14, 2018, Tsvangirai lost his brave battle with cancer, bringing to end the life of one of the greatest Zimbabweans of this generation.

Tsvangirai will be remembered as a political colossus of his time. The father of Zimbabwe’s democracy and a tenacious fighter for the rights of Zimbabweans who rose like a phoenix from his humble upbringings at Humanikwa village in rural Buhera to an international statesman. He brought Zimbabwe’s checkered human rights into sharp political focus.

September 1999, the MDC was launched amid pomp-and fanfare at the historic Rufaro Stadium.

At the launch of the party, Tsvangirai said of the new challenge: “That paradigm shift involves the issue of building a democratic people’s resistance movement and other options available democratically and that elections are not just exclusive to the achievement of that objective.”
In early 2000, Tsvangirai led opposition to Mugabe’s bid to foist on Zimbabweans a draft Constitution crafted by his government. The draft constitution was rejected in one of Mugabe’s greatest humiliations on the political playfield.

Tsvangirai led the MDC to parliamentary elections in 2000, in which the party garnered 57 out of 120 seats then on offer, despite Mugabe’s regime using violence, coercion and intimidation to retain power in an achievement that shook the foundations of the country’s political establishment.
At the party’s first anniversary, Tsvangirai, emboldened by his party’s election success, began agitating for Mugabe’s removal with presidential elections then due only two years away. “The time for mass action is now. We say to (President) Robert Mugabe, if you don’t want to go peacefully, we will remove you violently,” the popular opposition leader said.

It was a statement for which he was to be arrested years later and that Zanu PF was to use to project the MDC as a violent party in the ensuing two decades.

But Tsvangirai had announced his arrival on the political scene. Mugabe took note and sponsored the violent seizure of white-owned farms as he sought to retain power at all costs.

A few days before the presidential elections in 2002, Tsvangirai was arrested and charged with treason for allegedly having approached an Israeli company named Dickens and Madison, led by a former spy Ari Ben Menashe, in a sinister plot to unseat Mugabe by unconstitutional means.
Meanwhile, the country’s military generals, led by the Commander Defence Forces Vitalis Zvinavashe, in a chilling address to the country on the eve of the watershed poll, declared: “Let it be known that the highest office in the land is a straightjacket whose occupant is expected to observe the objectives of the liberation struggle.

“We will, therefore, not accept, let alone support or salute, anyone with a different agenda that threatens the very existence of our sovereignty, our country and our people.”

Zvinavashe declared this in a televised addressed flanked by other generals from then Army Commander Constantino Chiwenga, Air Force of Zimbabwe Commander Air Marshall Perrance Shiri, former CIO director-general Happyton Bonyongwe, then Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri and the Commissioner of Prisons Paradzayi Zimondi.

Tanks rolled into Zimbabwe’s cities and Mugabe forced through another electoral “fraud” that was rejected across the globe. Mugabe trudged on, but was slapped with international travel sanctions, while his government and close lieutenants have since found it difficult to transact globally.
Tsvangirai was acquitted of the treason charge and went about building his party into a formidable political force and turning his name into some mythical ideology of sorts.

His MDC party, however, was rocked by internal disagreements in 2005 over participation in senatorial elections, leading to the infamous October 12 split with then secretary-general Welshman Ncube that year.

However Tsvangirai remained the country’s foremost opposition voice to Mugabe despite his party not doing well in 2005 elections.

In between, Tsvangirai was bashed, arrested, his supporters killed, maimed and abducted in an orgy of continuing violence by Mugabe’s regime.

Things came to a head in March 2007 after security details broke up a Save Zimbabwe prayer meeting before the murder of an activist Gift Tandare, who was gunned down in the sprawling political hotbed of Highfield in Harare.

Tsvangirai was abducted along with other leading opposition figures, beaten up and left for dead and pictures of a blood-spattered opposition lead drew world-wide condemnation. Regional leaders stepped in and called for a series of meetings to discuss the crisis in Zimbabwe led by then South African President Thabo Mbeki.

Mugabe was forced to agree to an early general election in 2008 and in one of the most defining moments in Zimbabwe’s political history, Tsvangirai delivered Mugabe’s first electoral defeat since majority rule from Britain.

Results for the presidential poll were delayed by five weeks and when authorities finally made them public, it was claimed the MDC-T leader had won, but failed to garner enough votes to wrest power.

A run-off was called, but Tsvangirai pulled out at the eleventh hour citing systemic State sponsored violence that led to the murder of more than 300 opposition supporters. After months of negotiations, Mbeki brokered a peace deal in Zimbabwe leading to the formation of national unity government.

Tsvangirai was appointed Prime Minister and his goodwill with Zimbabweans and the international community led to overnight change in the fortunes of the country’s economy.

The coalition government governed until 2013 when elections were held and Mugabe, once again with help from an Israeli company known as Nikuv Projects, stole his way to victory and Tsvangirai refused to concede defeat, but Mugabe was sworn in as President.

The MDC-T split after the electoral charade but Tsvangirai ever the pragmatist pushed on demanding reforms and Mugabe’s resignation. Tsvangirai demanded that the military be reformed because it had wormed its way into the country’s toxic political arena.

Mugabe did not take heed and last November, fell at the sword of his own creation. The military placed him under house arrest, paving the way for the rise of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

However, as Zimbabweans continued to pin their hopes for a democratic transfer of power on Tsvangirai, the veteran opposition leader in June 2016 announced he had cancer of the colon.

From then, it was downhill and on February 14, 2018, Tsvangirai lost his brave battle with cancer, bringing to end the life of one of the greatest Zimbabweans of this generation.

Tsvangirai will be remembered as a political colossus of his time. The father of Zimbabwe’s democracy and a tenacious fighter for the rights of Zimbabweans who rose like a phoenix from his humble upbringings at Humanikwa village in rural Buhera to an international statesman. He brought Zimbabwe’s checkered human rights into sharp political focus.

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