Some 20 years ago I was a first-year journalism student, fresh from high school, full of energy but also wet behind the ears. I became friends with one Dumisani Sigogo, a student leader at the Christian College of Southern Africa (CCOSA), who organised was involved in organising discussion seminars on the prevailing political situation in the country. It was at one of these that I met Nelson Chamisa, then a student at the Harare Polytechnic.
On account of his knowledge and articulation of the situation in the country, the youthful Chamisa worn the hears of many, including myself – prompting me to become interested in activism. Along with Dumisani and Moses Gumbo, we took more than a cursory interest in the National Constitutional Assembly, the precursor to the MDC.
It was during this time that I came across a short dark man, with a sharp mind and a powerful voice. Morgan Richard Tsvangirai.
The day I met him, Tsvangirai, had come to address workers at Century Tower in the Harare CBD where a construction hoist had snapped and plunged 14 floors, killing d 14 contractors.
Before his arrival on scene, there was chaos. The moment Tsvangirai took the makeshift podium there was total silence. At the time he was the secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. I had seen first hand how Tsvangirai could steer a crowd, a skill that later endeared him to supporters of the MDC which was launched at Rufaro Stadium in 1999.
The party built on what several others – think ZUM and FORUM – had started, to become the most successful opposition challenge inZimbabwe history. Tsvangirai ran for president in 2002 and right before voting he was charged with treason over allegations that he was attempting to assassinate Robert Mugabe. This was just a taste of the many impediments that Tsvangirai had to overcome, including a brutal beating in 2007.
Mugabe’s loathed and feared Morgan. The 2002 election and the parliamentary polls held two years earlier were declared free and fair, although there was evidence of massive intimidation and tampering. Tsvangirai and Mugabe faced off again in 2008 which the MDC leader is believed to have won. However, massive violence saw the MDC opting out of a run-off, a few months later. On September 15, 2008, Mugabe and Tsvangirai signed the so-called Global Political Agreement which provided for the sharing of power. Mugabe remained president, Tsvangirai became prime minister, and another opposition leader, Arthur Mutambara, deputy prime minister.
While the GNU stabilised Zimbabwe, many blamed Tsvangirai’s participation for the MDC’s poor showing in the 2013 elections, although many also believed that these were rigged. That government was described as dysfunctional, as it was characterised by conflict, suspicion and skulduggery.
As Tsvangirai’s body moves to Zimbabwe for burial, many will say he has left his party in turmoil, with no clear successor. It is not clear if Chamisa is the heir-apparent. But others will note as a consolation that while he is outlived by his nemesis, he at least lived long enough to see Mugabe lose power, albeit to his own protégé, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
But for one man he played his part. Save is a river in Zimbabwe, and also Tsvangirai’s clan name. The great river is flowing no more. Rest easy Save; you played your part, be at peace, you were the first Democrat I know in Zimbabwe, go well son of the soil.