By Eddie Cross
Last week I got up to find the workers building a flat for me onto my daughter’s home, gathered outside the back door. They took their hats off and said to me through the supervisor on site, “we are sorry sir, the mountain has fallen”. I knew at once what they were talking about – it was the death of Morgan Tsvangirai in South Africa after a long struggle with colon Cancer.
They were not alone – the entire country has been in mourning for the past week and hundreds of thousands have attended memorials and the funeral itself. Just yesterday in the pouring rain, tens of thousands in red were at the burial in Buhera.
When I spoke at one memorial service I said that when Mugabe had been removed from office the whole country celebrated, when Tsvangirai died, the country wept.
It was a fitting farewell for a man who has changed the face of Zimbabwe completely in the past 37 years – playing a role that in many ways was more important than that of Robert Mugabe. The latter may have held almost absolute power for 37 years but has left Zimbabwe as one of the poorest countries in the world in per capita GDP terms, has been responsible for millions of deaths through poverty, malnutrition, exposure, diseases and politically inspired and directed violence. He has destroyed his legacy and when he dies, he may get a State Funeral and a gun carriage, but he will not get the royal send off that the people have given Morgan Tsvangirai.
He was 65 when he died and started out having to leave his rural home as a teenager with just two years of secondary education – his family could not afford to fund further education and he secured a position in a textile plant. After a few years he found a better job in the mining industry and joined the Mine Workers Union. He rose rapidly through the ranks and became the Secretary General of the umbrella organisation the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.
Ian Smith’s government had always discouraged the formation of trade unions and when Robert Mugabe took over from him in 1980 he maintained the same policies towards the Unions. The reasons were precisely the same – both administrations feared the mobilizing capacity of the Unions – not just in support of workers rights but as a political instrument on wider issues. They were right in many ways.
By simple force of personality Morgan took over the ZCTU when it had about 30 000 members and only a handful of Unions. In the next decade he transformed it into the largest civil organisation in the country with over 80 unions and half a million active members. Supported by the Trade Unions in Holland, Denmark and the United Kingdom as well as the ILO in Geneva, the ZCTU became a sophisticated and well organised movement and Morgan himself secured a good well-rounded education in some of the best Universities and Colleges in Europe.
As the sophistication of the ZCTU and its leadership grew they began to grasp the reality that the ruling Party – to which Morgan himself and all the others belonged, was running off the tracks. Its policies and the escalating corruption was destroying jobs and workers incomes, even as the Unions fought for better wages and working conditions.
By 1995, Morgan understood the core problem was the near total power that the President had and the centralized nature of the system he had created since Independence in 1980. He called for Constitutional reform and established a new NGO – the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) to fight for reform.
At first the Government simply brushed the call aside, but within three years the demands of the NCA could no longer be ignored. The President appointed a Constitutional Commission and in late 1999 the results were revealed. The President called for a referendum in early 2000. Morgan declared that the final result of this exercise was not acceptable as it maintained the total grip on power in the hands of Mugabe and did not decentralize authority in any significant way.
Long before this point, in 1997, Morgan had come to the conclusion that it had become necessary to challenge Zanu PF for power in the electoral field. He was not alone – many had come to the same conclusion in the previous 17 years, but all attempts at opposition politics had been swept aside and destroyed. Once again, the capacity of the man was revealed in how he went about this – he travelled the whole country, village by village, town by town speaking to small groups and asking; “Is it not time to challenge Mugabe and Zanu PF?”
By 1999 he felt that the time had come. It was necessary to challenge the adoption of the new Constitution and then to fight Zanu in the Parliamentary elections in mid 2000. The Movement for Democratic Change was born and was constituted at a mass rally in Mbare after an initial Congress in Chitungwiza. MT was elected President and I joined the Party becoming its first Secretary for Economic Affairs. The rest is now history.
Zanu PF lost the referendum and then went on to rig the election – as usual, with experts estimating the extent of the rigging at 15 per cent of the vote. They nearly lost their majority – surviving by 3 seats; Zanu woke up with a start, the fight was on.
Two years later, MDC went head to head with Zanu PF as the only opposition Party at that time, and in the Presidential elections the people poured onto the streets and tried to vote. People queued all night in places, queues were kilometers long. Eventually the regime simply closed the doors and hundreds of thousands were turned away.
My own estimate is that Morgan won that election by at least 400 000 votes. Supported by a South Africa who did not want MT to take power in any form, Mugabe survived but they knew that if they did nothing, the next election would be a disaster.
The MDC – a mass movement of the poor and marginalized, without regional support and little tangible international support, lost the 2005 election massively – the MDC split, and Morgan found himself outside the Party Leadership and on his own.
I remember very well a meeting in his garden where a few of us discussed what to do – he refused to accept defeat, we called for a Congress and 23 000 delegates arrived having walked and hitched a ride from every corner of the country. We carefully screened them and registered 18 000 delegates. They unanimously elected Morgan as President and Roy Bennett at Treasurer General.
By now the economic collapse was far advanced and by the time of the next election, an anxious South Africa with an inflow of 500 000 refugees a year from Zimbabwe, decided that a supervised election was essential. MDC won, with MT beating RGM with 54 per cent of the vote against 27 per cent for Mugabe and 18 per cent for Makone – sponsored by the breakaway MDC.
The Military Junta that was supporting Mugabe, plus the ANC regime in SA, moved to block his assumption of power and the final result; after a messy and totally violent run off was the formation of a GNU between the three Parties. In the next four years the MDC managed the recovery in the economy and the reestablishment of social services, but Zanu PF was determined not to allow a second debacle and the 2013 election, like 2005, was totally manipulated and controlled and returned Zanu PF to power with a two thirds majority. Immediately the economy protested, and another economic collapse got under way.
By this time Morgan already had cancer and we noticed that he was slowing down and when it was discovered, it was too late – it had spread and two years later he died. The explosion of grief in the country shows what I always knew – that at the grass roots MDC is alive and well.
The Alliance formed to fight the 2018 elections in July this year is strong and united, and we have put Nelson Chamisa forward as our candidate in the elections for President. He is 40 years old, been in our top leadership since 2000 and is an Advocate. He is a representative of a new Generation of leaders who can take Zimbabwe forward and finally bring about the real change that Morgan fought for all his life. Victory would be a fitting tribute and an upset may be coming.