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Zimbabwe opposition leader and Mugabe rival Morgan Tsvangirai dies of cancer at 65

AFP archive | Zimbabwean opposition leader and former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai

Morgan Tsvangirai, the veteran Zimbabwean opposition leader who fought President Robert Mugabe's regime for many years, died Wednesday at the age of 65 after a battle with cancer, a party official said.


"It is sad for me to announce that we have lost our icon and fighter for democracy," said Elias Mudzuri, a vice president of Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, in a post on Twitter.

The self-taught son of a bricklayer served as prime minister to President Mugabe in a 2009-2013 unity government cobbled together after a disputed and violent election in which scores of Tsvangirai's supporters were killed. His presence helped stabilise 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 rival.

Tsvangirai challenged Mugabe's re-election in a 2013 vote, saying the poll was manipulated and did not meet regional election standards. Some observers blamed his electoral defeat in part on Tsvangirai’s involvement in two sex scandals.

Late last year in an interview with FRANCE 24, Tsvangirai dicussed the political situation in his country following Mugabe's resignation.

>> Video: 'Free and fair elections, that is our mantra,' Tsvangirai tells FRANCE 24

Mugabe's government had detained Tsvangirai on numerous occasions over his vocal criticism of the regime.

Security forces swooped in on him in 1989 after he bluntly warned about the rising tide of political repression in the country.

Tsvangirai also claimed to have been the target of four assassination attempts – including one in 1997 in which he said attackers attempted to throw him out of his office window.

Despite their rivalry, 93-year-old Mugabe harboured 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”.

In 2016 Tsvangirai revealed he was being treated for colon cancer. He died on Wednesday after undergoing 18 months of treatment in neighbouring South Africa.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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