EDITORIAL COMMENT: Fare thee well son of the soil

The late Mr Morgan Tsvangirai

The late Mr Morgan Tsvangirai

MDC-T leader Mr Morgan Tsvangirai lost his two-year battle against colon cancer on Wednesday.

His death at a South African hospital marked an end to an era for a man who played a huge, admirable role in strengthening democracy in our country and keeping Zanu-PF and Government in check for 19 years.

Mr Tsvangirai started off as a lowly worker, serving his bosses tea at Trojan Nickel Mine near Bindura in the 1970s but through determination and hard work, he rose to become secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions in 1988, founded the biggest opposition party in the country’s history in 1999 and served as Prime Minister from 2009 to 2013.

He taught many what opposition politics is or should be, bravely taking on the might of Zanu-PF to an extent no other rival had done. Yes, there were some opposition parties that challenged Zanu-PF before him, but there is no denying that the challenge that Mr Tsvangirai posed was new.

He shook Zanu-PF in the June 2000 parliamentary elections when his then united party, MDC, won 57 seats. Zanu-PF won 62. Having run the country virtually unchallenged for 20 years, Zanu-PF was staggered by the near defeat. The ruling party surely got the message that it should work harder to meet the aspirations of the electorate.

Mr Tsvangirai performed well again in the 2002 presidential election, when he got 1 258 401 million votes or 42 percent of the total vote, although he lost to Zanu-PF candidate, Cde Robert Mugabe who got 1 685 212 votes or 56 percent. Three years later, MDC’s popularity waned a bit when it won 41 parliamentary seats, down by 16 from its 2000 score with Zanu-PF gaining as many.

Were it not for the legal requirement that says a presidential candidate must amass 50 percent plus one vote for him or her to be declared the winner, Mr Tsvangirai could have become president after the March 2008 election. He got 1 195 562 votes or 47, 9 percent against Cde Mugabe’s 1 079 730 or 43,2 percent.  It was a narrow miss for Mr Tsvangirai who however withdrew from a presidential election runoff that was staged three months later. Cde Mugabe got 2,1 million votes against 233 000 for Mr Tsvangirai.  But MDC-T had beaten Zanu-PF in the March parliamentary vote that was held concurrently with the presidential election, 100 seats to 99.

It was because of that strong performance in the parliamentary vote that both parties, plus MDC had to form an inclusive government which was inaugurated in February 2009. Mr Tsvangirai served as Prime Minister in that administration until elections in July 2013 which he and his party lost dismally.

He leaves on a losing note, but Mr Tsvangirai did a lot for his country. He helped in bringing out the point that diversity of political opinion strengthens democracy in a country. The past 18 years, particularly the four years of the inclusive government demonstrated that we might disagree politically, but Zimbabweans can work together in the same Parliament and Cabinet to advance the national interest.

All Zimbabweans — 16, 5 million of us — cannot agree on everything. There will be differences in opinions and preferences between us but even in that environment, there is no need for this party to fight the other, seeking to impose its will on the other. People must just acknowledge that diversity, celebrate it, tolerate one another and work together for national development. That is what democracy bids all of us to do. That is how democracies in other parts of the world work.

“We are saddened by the death of MT, we will sit and see how Zimbabweans can honour that Great son of the soil,” Vice-President, General Constantino Chiwenga tweeted on Wednesday night.

“Very sad indeed — as you know the President (Emmerson Mnangagwa) visited him at home to wish him well — but God gives and God has taken.  The fact that the President visited him shows what type of person he was,” Zanu-PF spokesman Cde Simon Khaya Moyo told AFP.

Mr Tsvangirai certainly made mistakes along the way. His personal call, and that of his party, for Western sanctions against his country is one of them.

Mati mafa ne nzara? (You say you have suffered?),” he asked at a rally a few years ago, to which the audience responded, “Eeeee!” (Yeeees!).

He continued: “Hamusati; muchashaisisa. (You have not suffered enough. You will suffer much more than that).”

The import of this statement was that Zimbabweans would continue suffering until they revolt against Zanu-PF or vote him into power.  Scorched earth tactics like this aren’t too helpful.

Also, he made a few bad choices, errors of judgment particularly after his wife’s death in 2009.  His time as Prime Minister did a lot to expose these flaws which is arguably why his popularity and that of his party nosedived from then on.

However, we must assert that these failings will not discredit Mr Tsvangirai’s overall contribution to national social, political and economic development.

He was not a saint; none of us is.

We have no doubt whatsoever that President Mnangagwa acknowledges the need for us as Zimbabweans to be united in our diversity. He, at a personal level, and his government have shown a great deal of tolerance thus are likely to sincerely do whatever they can to honour Mr Tsvangirai for his role in national development.

We are indeed saddened by Mr Tsvangirai’s very painful death. Cancer is always a difficult disease to contain, especially in this case when it was detected a little late. We are sorry to say this, but given the late diagnosis in June 2016 and the speed at which the disease later progressed, the opposition leader was only waiting for his time. That time sadly came at around 5pm on Wednesday.

We urge the Tsvangirai family to take comfort in the knowledge that the nation is with them at this difficult time and that this loss is a loss to us all.

May his soul rest in eternal peace.