Dr Morgan Richard Tsvangirai: An abridged Orbituary by Tapiwa Mashakada
This is my personal testimony borne out of many years of working with Morgan Tsvangirai. We had almost become brothers. From 1991 to 1998 he was my boss at the ZCTU. I was his economic advisor and he was my Secretary General. We officially formed the MDC together in 1998 but all the years we had been doing serious spade work. This is not an autobiography but a short orbituary based on my first hand experience of knowing the man. Therefore this is my own version of Morgan Tsvangirai the Trade Unionist Politician and Statesman.
Morgan Tsvangirai passed on in South Africa where he was undergoing a cancer treatment therapy. The news of his demise started filtering on the evening of Wednesday 14th February 2018. All sorts of complimentary messages can be written on his epitaph. If you ask me to do so I would write, ” here lies a great man – brave but humble and selfless, full of love and compassion for his people…” His untimely death has robbed the Tsvangirai family, MDC family, Zimbabwe, Africa and the whole world of a gallant and fearless fighter for democracy. He emerged from humble beginnings of his boyhood in Humanikwa village, Buhera where he did his Primary education before proceeding to Gokomere for his secondary education. Because he was the first born child, after his O-levels he had to look for employment so he could look after his siblings. He worked for a textile firm in Mutare before moving to Bindura Trojan Mine where he quickly rose to become a senior shopfloor steward under the banner of the Mineworkers Union led by Geoff Mutandare. He eventually moved from Trojan to join the Mineworkers Union at St Andrews House in Harare full time in 1986. He didn’t last long as he was elected at the ZCTU Gweru Congress in 1988 to the position of ZCTU Secretary General taking over from Ishmael Nedziwe who also had taken over from Albert Mugabe who had died under mysterious circumstances in a swimming pool. The ZCTU had been established by Gvt in 1981 as a truly black african labour movement. When he became Secretary General of the ZCTU,the organization was a rag tag movement with a skeletal workforce of sister Viola a sweeper, Godfrey Kanyenze the Researcher, Chirebvu the bookkeeper and one or two others. The ZCTU offices were at Pockets Building, Jason Moyo Ave. Being Morgan the self starter he started building ZCTU Secretariat. He introduced the following: economics dept, health and safety, education and training, women dept, organizing, information, advocacy, informal sector etc until ZCTU was now a modernized organization with systems. Because of his leadership skills ZCTU was quickly recognized by international Trade Union Secretariats such as ILO, LO Norway, LO Sweden, AFL-CIO ( now Solidarity), Afro-fiet, ICFTU, CTUC and many others.
Back home he stood for workers rights and fought for better conditions of employment, including health and safety and right to collective bargaining and ILO labour Standards. ZCTU was moved to Chester House in 1994. In 1992 ZCTU staged a demo against the Labour Bill which sought to ban strikes. During the economic structural adjustment program (ESAP) 1991-1995, ZCTU resisted the neo-liberal policies of the Bretton woods Institutions forcing gvt to abandon the second stage of the program. Despite pressure on gvt, conditions of workers continued to deteriorate. Meanwhile ZCTU had now attracted the support of intellectuals the likes of Brian Raftpoulos, Lloyd Sachikonye, Arnold Sibanda, Shephered Nzombe, Kempton Makamure, Yash Tandon, Rene Loewnson, Godfrey Kanyenze, Tapiwa Mashakada, John Manyanya and others. The Friederick Ebert Foundation helped in capacity building programs. Tendai Biti and Munyaradzi Gwisai represented unions in all labour cases. Under Morgan Tsvangirai ZCTU became the voice of workers in Zimbabwe. We made such noises so much so that in 1996 Mugabe challenged us to form a political party. Meanwhile civil society was becoming stronger with the start of the Constitutional Movement by Tawanda Mutasa which culminated in the NCA in 1996 where Tsvangirai was elected Chairman. Other NCA founders were Nelson Chamisa, Brian Kagoro, Douglas Mwonzora, Welshman Ncube, Ben Hlatshwayo, Tendai Biti and others.
In 1997 Morgan led the process of organizing the National Working Peoples Convention; The Special ZCTU Congress of 1998 and the formation of the first formidable opposition in Zimbabwe. He became the inaugural MDC President in 1999. In 2000 he led the No vote against the Constitution. In 2000 MDC won the elections but Mugabe rigged. For the first time the opposition had 57 seats. Subsequent elections were violent in 2002, 2005 but in 2008 Tsvangirai won the elections resulting in the formation of the Government of National Unity in which he was Prime Minister. Zimbabweans enjoyed good living during the GNU. However MT suffered a lot. In 2007 he was battered at Machipisa Police after an aborted rally at the Zimbabwe Grounds. At ZCTU he was almost thrown out of the window by state security agents were it not for the screeming by Edith Munyaka his Secretary. MT as we affectionately called him was a very brave man. He put his head on the block to fight one of the most brutal regimes in the World. He resisted all attempts to corrupt him. Desperate to arrest him the state set up a trap for him in the infamous Ben Menashe case in which he was acquitted. At one stage he escaped the intelligence drag net by flying in a private plane from South Africa to Zimbabwe. MT was arrested by the Mugabe regime in many trumped up charges and he became a jail bird. He led the process to write a new Zimbabwe Constitution in 2010. In the 2013 elections he was again rigged but he continued on his path of constitutionalism and legal resistance. But the economy nose dived. And up until now the economy remains in the woods. Tsvangirai was the first person to tell Mugabe to go peacefully or be removed violently. Operation Restore Legacy was a fulfilment of his prpphecy. Tsvangirai was a grassroots man loved by all in rural and urban areas. He became a household name in Zimbabwe. He abhored violence. However his greatest disappointment were the 2 MDC splits of 2005 and 2014. No wonder why he called for a big tent to reunite the MDC family. He has gone but he left a good legacy of unity in the MDC Alliance and peace in the country. He was diagnosed of colon cancer in 2015 and he battled it till his demise on 14 Feb 2018.
Zimbabwe has lost one of its finest and most brave sons. Whatever his weaknesses were, these are dwarfed by his good deeds and leadership qualities.Despite losing his dear wife in a suspicious road accident in 2009 Morgan was not a bitter man. The self educated Morgan Tsvangirai is hard to replace. My sincere condolences goes to the Tsvangirai, Macheka and Mhundwa families.