Zimbabwe Opposition Leader Morgan Tsvangirai is Dead

Morgan Tsvangirai, the veteran Zimbabwean opposition leader who fought Robert Mugabe’s regime for many years, died on Wednesday after battling against cancer, a party official said.

“It is sad for me to announce that we have lost our icon and fighter for democracy,” Elias Mudzuri, one of the vice-presidents of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, said on Twitter.

Tsvangirai’s death was confirmed to AFP by another senior party member. He was 65.

Reuters report that a powerful orator from humble beginnings, Morgan Tsvangirai was arguably Zimbabwe’s most popular politician and came within a whisker of unseating Robert Mugabe only to be outmaneuvered and ultimately outlived by his long-time nemesis.

At the peak of his career, the self-taught son of a brick-layer served as prime minister to Mugabe’s president in a 2009-2013 unity government cobbled together after a disputed and violent election in which scores of his supporters were killed.

His presence helped stabilize an economy in freefall but Mugabe reneged on pledges to overhaul the former British colony’s partisan security forces and Tsvangirai was shunted back into his familiar role as opposition gadfly.

A hefty electoral defeat in 2013, blamed in part on Tsvangirai’s involvement in two sex scandals, put paid to his dreams of one day leading the southern African nation and three years later he revealed he was being treated for colon cancer.

He died on Wednesday aged 65, after 18 months of treatment in neighboring South Africa.

Despite their rivalry, 93-year-old Mugabe harbored grudging respect for an opponent who suffered multiple abuses at the hands of security forces, including a police beating in 2007 that left him with deep gashes in his head.

During their time in power together, the two men developed an uneasy working relationship, squabbling frequently but also taking afternoon tea every Monday and even joking about their frequent head-butting.

“I’ve got my fair share of criticisms and also dealt back rights and lefts and upper cuts. But that’s the game,” Mugabe said on the eve of the 2013 vote, mimicking the movements of a boxer.

“Although we boxed each other, it’s not as hostile as before. It’s all over now. We can shake hands.”

In the coalition’s early days, Tsvangirai even said he found Mugabe to be “very accommodative, very charming”.

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