Morgan Tsvangirai, who led Zimbabwe’s main opposition party for almost two decades and failed to unseat Robert Mugabe as president in several elections that were marred by allegations of violence and rigging, has died. He was 65.
Tsvangirai, who has been battling cancer, died on Wednesday, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change’s vice president, Elias Mudzuri, said by phone.
A former labor union leader, Tsvangirai helped found the MDC in 1999, the first party since independence in 1980 to pose a major threat to the rule of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front.
While the MDC won control of Harare, the capital, and other urban areas where Tsvangirai was wildly popular, the security forces helped Mugabe cling to power.
Mugabe finally quit in November 2017 after the military seized control of the country and his own party threatened to impeach him.
The MDC nominated Tsvangirai to run against Emmerson Mnangagwa, who Zanu-PF chose to succeed Mugabe, in presidential elections scheduled for 2018.
He indicated on Jan. 8 that he was considering bowing out of the race after undergoing treatment for colon cancer, saying it was time to place the party in “new hands.”
Morgan Richard Tsvangirai was born on March 10, 1952, in the southern district of Gutu, the son of a bricklayer father and a mother who was a subsistence farmer.
He first worked as a plant operator at Trojan Nickel Mine in the northern town of Bindura and entered union politics, becoming the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary-general in 1989.
Tsvangirai joined forces with other labor and civil-rights leaders in 1999 to form the MDC, as opposition grew to Mugabe’s increasingly authoritarian leadership and mismanagement of the economy.
The MDC won its first political battle in a 2000 referendum, when it defeated constitutional changes that Tsvangirai said would have entrenched Mugabe’s rule.
After the loss, government-backed militants embarked on the seizure of thousands of white-owned farms and evicted about 3 million people, mainly farmworkers of Malawian, Zambian and Mozambican descent, according to the United Nations.
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