Former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai will forever be remembered as a man who reconfigured the political, economic and social landscape of Zimbabwe. Through a combination of improvisation and planning, the former Premier rose to prominence.
By Wilton N Machimbira
His political thought will be read globally on equal footing with other African icons like Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere and Thomas Sankara. He espoused political collegiality and shunned bellicosity. To him, intransigence was anathema. He exuded the non-violent political philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi.
He had a unique political thought, he believed that political plurality is an ingredient of a healthy society and not a cause of acrimony. He taught the nation that divergent points of view can move the nation forward. To him, political power was not an end in itself, but rather, a means to an end, the end being the greater good for the people Zimbabwe. Tsvangirai believed that a nation cannot thrive in isolation, but rather, in partnership with others.
As Gandhi, Tsvangirai believed that politics is an instrument for the upliftment of mankind in social, economic, moral and spiritual spheres. Gandhi had a vision of transforming the socially and morally degenerated and separated individuals in a manner where they can enjoy their freedom in a spirit of altruism and that’s the same path that Tsvangirai walked on.
In light of Tsvangirai’s escapades, debate has been raging on whether political leaders are born or made. I posit that a leader in Tsvangirai was born and shaped by circumstances. I posit that leadership is a sum-total of characteristics or traits that a person has or develops over time. Debate has also been raging on whether Tsvangirai was a realist or an idealist.
He was a fierce fighter, a quintessential democrat, a humanist, who championed the cause of the Zimbabweans with unquestionable dedication and unprecedented zeal and zest. A distinguished political apostle. We will forever be indebted to his self-less sacrifices. He was a proponent of servant leadership, who believed in a just free society, a society where we are all equal.
He espoused thought leadership with commendable gusto, clarity and precision. We will all remember him for the role he played in the democratisation crusade of Zimbabwe. He spoke his ideas out of conviction and firmly stood for what he believed in. He fought relentlessly like Rambo for what he believed in.
At a time when it was even considered taboo to point an accusatory finger to Zanu PF and former President Robert Mugabe, Tsvangirai stood still, hand in glove with the people of Zimbabwe culminating in the defeat of Zanu PF government in the 2000 constitutional referendum.
As if that was not enough, under the tutelage of Tsvangirai, the newly-born formidable opposition MDC nearly defeated Zanu PF in the 2000 parliamentary elections had it not been that Zanu PF resorted to its unorthodox means to retain power in the face of political extinction. However, in 2008, Zanu PF faced humiliating defeat by the MDC-T under the leadership of Tsvangirai.
As we mourn the untimely death of an unsung hero, we take cognisance of the fact that his political odyssey was no walk in the park, it was signposted by some dark episodes that threatened to destroy his political career. The world remembers the dubious character, Ari Ben Menashe, who wanted to drag Tsvangirai down the drain. These were Tsvangirai’s dark days, but he prevailed much to the chagrin of many.
The State, in cohorts with Menashe, failed to outmanoeuvre him. The State had charged that Tsvangirai had enlisted the help of Menashe of the infamous Dickens and Madison Consultancy to unconstitutionally overthrow the Zanu PF led government. After a painstaking lengthy trial that was deliberately delayed to paralyse opposition campaigns, Tsvangirai was acquitted and the acquittal was a huge blow to the forces of tyranny. As Stephen Chan notes, in his book Citizen of Zimbabwe, “On a day when he could easily have been sentenced to a hangman’s noose, he was cordial and open, as calm as ice.”
Zimbabweans still remembers with vividness the so called The Assassination Plot’ documentary that was screened on ZTV, secretly filming Tsvangirai and Menashe and the debate that followed in the streets on the meaning of the word “eliminate” that Tsvangirai had used. He was vilified on State media, lampooned, demonised and portrayed as a villain.
An impression was created that the imposition of sanctions was done at his behest, when in fact the manner in which Zanu PF behaved was viewed by the international community as not in conformity to generally acceptable norms of conduct as Gabriel Chaibva noted back then. The betrayal and disappointments that Tsvangirai faced as an individual emboldened and invigorated him to be a leader with a thick skin.
The world remembers the June 27, 2008 horrendous reign of terror when Mugabe unleashed violence against opposition MDC-T supporters, who had vehemently rejected the Zanu PF government in the March 29 elections. As a gesture of a selfless sacrifice, Tsvangirai pulled out of the run-off, citing a plethora of irregularities. He proved that he was a man who would rather lose than let his people die and that on its own was a undistinguished quality of leadership.
It was at that hour when the political atmosphere was so tense and polarised. The nation was teetering on a brink of a civil war, the economy was comatose, thousands of opposition supporters had lost their lives, some had either been internally or externally displaced and some were maimed and tortured.
As a dark cloud of illegitimacy hovered over the Mugabe led government after the June 27 run-off that was dubbed a circus, Mugabe reached a point of Tina (there is no alternative) and extended a hand to his nemesis Tsvangirai to operationalise a unity government.
Through his works and words, the former Prime Minister proved that indeed, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind and that two wrongs will not make a difference.” The world remembers the tearful, down and dispirited Tsvangirai telling the whole world that the accident that resulted in the death of his beautiful wife Susan was “an act of God”. He unified the people and didn’t want to reap political capital out of a dead body. A lot of us out there are quick to accuse other people of witchcraft in the event of misfortunes even of our own making. I remember the headline of a South African newspaper written Morgan rules out foul play.
The world remembers the swollen face of Tsvangirai after he was brutalised to pulp by the police for allegedly convening an illegal meeting. He was not a vengeful man, he didn’t harbour grudges, like most of us, who hardly forgive and forget. Had it not been that, he would not have agreed to form Government of National Unity with his arch rival, Mugabe.
Tsvangirai believed in a non-violent approach to bringing about change to Zimbabwe. This is something the youth of today ought to embrace and enhance to deliver a change for positive transformation of the lives of Zimbabweans. Tsvangirai’s vision and ideals will guide Zimbabweans, as they cross over to a new prosperous and democratic dispensation that is flickering beyond the horizon.
Tsvangirai’s death has ignited a centripetal effect across race, class, creed, religious divide and political affiliation. It has seen foes, former foes, rivals and friends coming together to mourn the death of an unsung hero.
The Oxford English dictionary describes an unsung hero as a person (especially a man) whose heroism or achievements are unacknowledged or little known. A person, who makes a substantive yet unrecognised contribution. An unsung hero usually refrains from claiming too much in return for his efforts. However, as George Carlin posited, “as soon as someone is identified as an unsung hero or heroine, they no longer are”.
Go well, Morgan Tsvangirai,you fought a good fight!
Wilton Nyasha Machimbira, a political analyst, human rights defender and director for Developmental Research and Consultancy. For feedback and comments, he can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.