MDC-T founding leader, Morgan Tsvangirai is no more. Gone for good, that booming voice and haughty laugh is no more, but his name will remain part of Zimbabwe’s political nomenclature for generations to come.
BY RICHARD CHIDZA
The history of Zimbabwe’s democratic struggle can never be complete without Tsvangirai’s name. It was him who led calls for constitutional reform and opening up of the political space at a time when former President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF party were still mulling the pursuit of a one-party state.
For this he attracted monikers like “chematama” on account of his chubby face, “Teaboy” because he once worked as a low level worker at a mine in Bindura, but it is here that the fiery trade unionist we all loved and hated in equal measure was born.
His greatest lieutenants turned into overnight arch-enemies, before a staggering volte face as elections loomed and the political graveyard loomed large. From Welshman Ncube to Tendai Biti both former secretary-generals, who served under Tsvangirai before breaking away to form their own parties, accusing the revered former trade unionist of dictatorial tendencies and “a lack of intelligence”. The two were to return cup in hand pleading to “join the big tent.” The same one that Biti characterised as a “leaking big tent” just less than a year ago. A day let alone a year is a long time in politics, so they say.
While Mugabe’s condolence message was not made public, the fact that he found time and the heart to do that is no mean feat for a man he consistently described as a sell-out who would never rule Zimbabwe.
Mugabe’s sister Bridget in 2000 shocked thousands of citizens celebrating National Heroes Day, when she approached her brother’s late wife Sally’s grave in a bizarre spectacle reporting that “Tsvangirai is tormenting your husband. Why thou art forsaken him”. Such was the level of hate for Tsvangirai that his death would certainly have been cause for celebration within the ruling Zanu PF party’s rank and file.
At some point after the October 12, 2005 fall-out with Ncube and during the unity government, Tsvangirai told France-based Africa Report, there was not prospect of a re-unification with his erstwhile comrade dismissing his party as a regional organisation.
“Now they have retreated to be regional party; so I don’t think that is healthy for uniting the people. So we will have to put that into consideration, as to whether they want to be a national flag or (sic),” Tsvangirai was quoted as saying.
Ncube shot back: “I don’t know what seized the Prime Minister (Tsvangirai) to cause him to accuse us of retreating into being a regional party. Could he be suggesting that a party becomes regional once its president originates from outside Mashonaland, and his or her mother language is Ndebele?”
“We invite the PM to a debate any place, any time on any issue of policy or on any subject concerning the welfare and interests of the people. We have no desire to debate him on fiction. I hope that this is the last time we have to sink to this level of shamelessness, despicability and emptiness!”
The sudden regret as Ncube sought a way back into Tsvangirai’s fold probably realising “its cold out there”.
“The split of the MDC, in my entire life, my 50 years by July this year (2011), is something that hurts me the most. The most painful and hurtful period in my life was October 2005 to February 2006, the period of the split,” Ncube said.
“No other period in my life have I suffered more pain, more hurt and more agony. It’s something I reflect on regularly and ask if we could have done things differently, if there could there have been another outcome.”
Opportunistic as ever, Ncube was not done yet, launching another broadside at the MDC-T leader in 2014, before he wormed his way back to his principal’s side months before he succumbed to colon cancer.
“I have no doubt that if we are able to put forward a candidate as opposition, a candidate of a united front, that candidate would win the next election in Zimbabwe,” he said. What matters is that the candidate must be an undoubted democrat. I regret to say I do not classify Tsvangirai in that category.”
Following the conclusion of the MDC Alliance agreement and the launch of the political coalition then led by Tsvangirai, Khupe was bashed in Bulawayo by rogue party youth, who accused her of undermining the party leader’s authority by failing to appear at the grand ceremony at Zimbabwe Grounds in Highfield.
Khupe, party national chairman Lovemore Moyo and orgnaising secretary Abednico Bhebhe wrote to Tsvangirai declaring they would not support the coalition because they had not been consulted and the late MDC-T leader had acted unilaterally.
“We are, however, concerned about the seemingly centralisation of power in one person, and method that was employed, which gave birth to the alliance agreement, which is fraught with inconsistencies, as we were never consulted regarding the substantive contents of the alliance agreement.”
In 2015, a year after the 2014 congress, Tsvangirai told a rally in Chitungwiza that some senior officials were plotting to unseat him by pushing for a fresh congress. Chamisa was unamused and at a Kuwadzana rally shot back: “We have been reading in the newspapers that Chamisa and others want to form a party; that I want to remove the leadership by calling for another congress. We cannot be perpetually thinking about congresses, people must forget about that and work towards strengthening the party in readiness to take power.”
At the same rally, Chamisa, another Tsvangirai deputy president Elias Mudzuri and youth leader Happymore Chidziva took turns to poke holes into a then planned alliance with former vice-president and National People’s Party leader Joice Mujuru.
But at Tsvangirai’s burial, Chamisa pleaded with Mujuru: “Please come close, let us work together”.
Former Cabinet minister, Jonathan Moyo, who is now in self-imposed exile following Mugabe’s removal through a military intervention last November, is remembered for some of the most scathing attacks on Tsvangirai. A few years ago, Moyo derided Tsvangirai describing the late opposition leader as someone with an “open zip and a shut mind policy” in reference to reports of the trade unionists’ numerous relations with different women.
In 2015 after Tsvangirai made a “State of the nation address” Moyo reacted angrily arguing the MDC-T’s statements could only “come from someone who is having problems in their personal life or need help”, adding the opposition leader was “disturbed”.
However, following Tsvangirai’s death, Moyo described the MDC-T leader as a “people’s hero”.
Ahead of the 2013 elections as was the case in 2002, then Defence Forces Commander General Constantino Chiwenga who now serves as vice-president said the country’s securocrats would never meet Tsvangirai.
“I and fellow ZDF generals are not missionaries and will never meet with Tsvangirai; we have no time to meet sell-outs, mapuruvheya,” he told a local weekly.
“Clearly, Tsvangirai is a psychiatric patient who needs a competent psychiatrist. There is nothing like that, we never met Tsvangirai, Giles Mutsekwa or anyone from the MDC-T. Why would we do that? We have no time for sell-outs.”
But Chiwenga early this year accompanied Mnangagwa to visit a then ailing Tsvangirai and when the news of his death broke, the vice-president extolled the late MDC-T leader’s virtues.
“We are saddened by the death of MT. We will sit and see how Zimbabweans can honour that Great son of the soil,” Chiwenga said.
Mnangagwa was not to be outdone: “Both in and after the GNU, he remained a national figure who obdurately insisted on free, fair, credible and non-violent elections as a way of strengthening our democracy and our overall re-engagement with the rest of the world.”
Suddenly, the “sell-out” had turned into a national hero. Zimbabweans have a Shona proverb “Wafa Wanaka” loosely translated “one cannot speak ill of the dead”. For Tsvangirai, however, the late MDC-T leader would have been shocked out of his wits. He would have never imagined his tormentors were ever going to turn into his praise-singers.
The epitaph on his grave should read, “Here lies a man hated in life, but idolised in death”.