Morgan Tsvangirai, the Zimbabwe opposition leader, died on Wednesday after a long battle with cancer, casting his Movement for Democratic Change into the unknown less than three months after the army ousted Robert Mugabe. Mr Tsvangirai, who died in South Africa, was 65.
“I can confirm that he died this evening. The family communicated this to me,” Elias Mudzuri, MDC vice-president, told Reuters. Arguably Zimbabwe’s most popular politician, the mining union leader’s career was defined by his tussles, literal and figurative, with Mr Mugabe, 93, who resigned after a de facto coup in December.
His death will be an enormous blow to the opposition in Zimbabwe, coming only months before the first elections were due to be held in the former British colony since the end of Robert Mugabe’s near four-decade rule last year.
Tsvangirai’s illness, revealed in 2016, has divided his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, with three deputy leaders and other officials publicly manoeuvring to succeed the former trade union leader.
The party will have to choose a new leader and launch a campaign against a resurgent Zanu-PF, the ruling party, to contest polls that may be held as early as May.
Without its founder at the helm, the MDC is likely to face immediate instability and could even split, handing a gift to Zimbabwe’s new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa. A broader alliance of seven political parties formed last year to take on Zanu-PF could also be destabilised.
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 after 18 months of treatment in neighbouring South Africa.
Despite their rivalry, 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.
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