Luke-ing the Beast in the Eye: Morgan Tsvangirai’s dalliance with the month of March — A remembrance
Last Friday, the 10th of March 2023, would have been Dr Morgan Richard Tsvangirai’s 71st birthday. As per tradition of this column, I would have wanted last week to do a remembrance piece which I deferred to today as I felt I had to deal with the urgent matter of Zanu PF’s intention to rig this year’s watershed plebiscite as well as the electoral reform agenda which appears to have been conveniently forgotten by the country’s political players, across the spectrum.
And the plot to disenfranchise voters continues. As the registration exercise kicked off last Sunday, we noted serious challenges that include a deliberately slow registration process, few serving machines and few registration centres per ward.
In Domboshava at Nyakudya, Nyamande, Mutonda, Parirewa, Kachuta and Makumbe, the Zanu PF FAZ teams were either outside or right inside the registration centre taking details of every registrant. The ZEC officials apeared powerless to chase them out.
As promised, I return this week to the Morgan Tsvangirai remembrance piece that I intimated last Friday. Tsvangirai had a unique relationship with the month of March.
Firstly, the democracy icon was born on 10 March 1952. Secondly he died on 14 February 2018, some 10 or so days to the 10th anniversary of a historic month in which he defeated one Robert Mugabe, Africa’s renowned tyrant, in the equally historic election of 29 March, 2008.
March remains a special Morgan Tsvangirai month, not only because it was the month in which he was born, but because it is the month in which he delivered the cardinal lesson to the world that it is possible to defeat in an election an entrenched, murderous dictator armed with nothing but one’s bare hands.
As we say in the famous song, we carry neither a bayonet nor a bow and arrows, but we move in the blessed company of the Son of Man. Hatina bakatwa , hatina uta nemiseve , tofamba naJesu chete .
As we stand on the cusp of a watershed plebiscite, we must forever treasure it in our hearts that Tsvangirai taught us that it is possible.
Indeed, as we commemorate his posthumous 71st birthday, let us remember that Tsvangirai left a rich legacy that unfortunately is being torn asunder by the treacherous and mercenary lot amongst us, which lot unfortunately now includes members of his own family.
They are now consorting with the same murderous dictatorship that tormented him till his unfortunate demise on St. Valentine’s day in 2018.
Today, in this epic month and as part of his commemoration in the aftermath of what would have been his 71st birthday, I rededicate the following piece in fond remembrance of this undisputed national hero of our time.
Morgan Tsvangirai : His last days
Facts are stubborn. It is trite to state that the story of this country cannot be written without according veneration to the name of Morgan Richard Tsvangirai.
For there is no debate that Tsvangirai deserves his own place in the national narrative for the significant role he played in shaping the country’s post-liberation politics.
Fate is a capricious woman. And the whole journey was never planned, as the man himself often said. It was mother fate that often tended to throw him to the deep end.
As he always told me, it all started during midnight conversations at the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions’ elective congress in Gweru in 1988. He did not even want to run for office and most delegates at that elective congress, including Tsvangirai himself, had tipped veteran journalist Charles Chikerema to clinch the powerful post of secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.
Albert Mugabe, the brother to former President Robert Mugabe, had been leading the ZCTU and everyone at the congress was convinced that Chikerema, yet another relative of Mugabe, would ascend to the powerful post of secretary general of the ZCTU.
But the delegates’ conversations on that ominous night on the eve of the elections in Gweru expressed doubts on whether Chikerema would be able to wean off the ZCTU from the firm clutches of government, where previous leaders had unwittingly left the country’s labour federation.
Some within the ZCTU wanted the labour body to be truly independent of the government so that it could effectively execute its mandate of representing the country’s workers without fear or favour.
The delegates who trooped to Morgan Tsvangirai’s hotel room at midnight on the eve of the Congress wanted the ZCTU to break away from the firm clutches of government control and they were convinced Tsvangirai would be the man to drive the ZCTU to full autonomy.
Emissaries from the various affiliate unions spent the whole night in Morgan Tsvangirai’s hotel room seeking to convince him to run for the powerful post of secretary general.
Morgan Tsvangirai, then a leader of the mine workers’ union, eventually agreed to run after fellow delegates had made persuasive arguments about the unsuitability of Chikerema.
The delegates had their misgivings on whether the veteran scribe would give the ZCTU its deserved autonomy from government control, given his relationship to Robert Mugabe.
It was almost morning when Tsvangirai finally agreed to run for the post of secretary-general, which he won a few hours later, setting the stage for a 30-year tenure in the national limelight as a doyen of the country’s democratic struggle.
When I heard the news of his death at exactly 1737hours on Wednesday, 14 February 2018, I mused over how this journey that started in 1988 had painfully ended 30 years later, some 24 days before his 66th birthday.
His life was a tenuous journey in which he was prejudiced of the Presidency following his watershed victory in the elections held on 29 March 2008. Given his mammoth love for the country and its people, he humbled himself and settled for the junior post of Prime Minister, even though he had won the election.
Morgan Tsvangirai was to rescue the country from a debilitating crisis and poise the nation for stability, growth and development in a mere four years as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe.
Driving a stability and growth agenda through the Government Work Programme that was steered by the Prime Minister’s Office, Tsvangirai showed his competence on the wheel of government during his four year stint in government.
Indeed, the song “Dollar for two yakauya naTsvangirai” will forever stand as testimony to the verdict by ordinary Zimbabweans that the man’s tenure as Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister was synonymous with affordable prices of basic commodities, a “livable” country.
As the nation stood on the cusp of a crucial election in which he was expected to win resoundingly, mother Fate again intervened. This time, cruel fate took him to the grave, leaving a despondent nation shell-shocked.
He was a man I knew so well. To me, he was a father, a man I served for almost a decade as his spokesperson until his death.
We travelled the world and across the country together. We spent many days and long hours talking about the country and its people that he so much loved.
Tokyo, Washington, London, Canberra, Beijing, Paris, Berlin, the Swiss Alps in Davos and many other world capitals, I had the privilege of accompanying him as his spokesperson. During those trips across the globe, he often charmed the world and gave revered speeches to bemused audiences, especially during his stint as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe and leader of the country’s opposition.
We travelled together to Windhoek, Pretoria, Luanda, Maputo, Nairobi, Accra, Dar es Salaam, Abidjan, Lagos and many other African capitals.
Across the whole of Africa, I saw for myself the respect African citizens gave to this courageous African who had chosen to confront—–with nothing but his bare hands and an unstinting tenacity—–the murderous regime of one of Africa’s feared tyrants.
In the country, we travelled together from Plumtree to Chipinge, from Nyanga to Chirundu and from Mt. Darwin to Binga down in the Zambezi escarpment as he engaged in his favourite pastime—-meeting ordinary people and getting their input into how the democratic struggle ought to be prosecuted.
The last time we traversed the country together for one-and-half months—sometimes sleeping in the car—-was the period between January and February 2017 when we sought the ordinary people’s input into the then MDC Congress resolution to enter into a formidable alliance with other political players.
We sat together until late in the night after that tour as we penned his piece after that highly informing jaunt. The piece, in keeping with his natural disposition as a listening leader, was entitled “ I heard You.”
The people had unanimously and unequivocally endorsed the formation of an Alliance. This is how the MDC Alliance was formed, which Alliance has now been stolen and appropriated by Zanu PF through the mercenary and treacherous lot that has sought to betray both Tsvangirai’s legacy and the hope of the generality of the people of Zimbabwe.
Tsvangirai was a boss any rational person could wish for; the only boss I know who could afford to attend funerals of relatives of his underlings, as he did in 2015 when he came unannounced to my rural home in Domboshava for the burial of my grandmother, Martha Tamborenyoka Gombera.
He was a leader who would wait to give an ear to everyone, whatever their social station. He often had tiffs with his security personnel, whom he always wanted to relax their tight protocols and allow ordinary people to shake his hand and to speak to him.
Party members and ordinary villagers would come from as far away as Mt. Darwin and be granted an ear at his residence, first in Strathaven and later in Highlands; even against the advice of security personnel who often wanted to refer these ordinary party members to channel their grievances and concerns through their respective provincial leaders.
Not with Tsvangirai, who would insist he wanted to get the untainted, raw concerns from ordinary supporters, undiluted by the strictures and the drudgery of officialdom, party hierarchy and bureaucracy.
That was vintage Tsvangirai. Always a man of the people. His death came as a shock….especially against the background of my last two moments with him.
The first of our last two personal and direct engagements was on Friday, 5 January 2018 after his meeting with Emmerson Mnangagwa who had visited him that afternoon at his Highlands home.
It was at that meeting at his residence that he intimated to me the details of his private discussion with Mnangagwa. At the same meeting, he told me to tell the world that he was about to leave the country and he would leave then Vice President Nelson Chamisa as acting President and he asked me to call Advocate Chamisa. The other two VPs, VP Mudzuri and VP Khupe had previously acted in his absence and this was going to be Chamisa’s first stint as acting President.
But Chamisa declined to be the acting President, saying Khupe hated him so much and it was not going to be good to have a sulking Khupe publicly throwing all sorts of invectives when the boss was not in good health. Chamisa said he did not want an impression of a fight in the cockpit when the President was being treated in hospital. Chamisa declined and suggested that the acting Presidency be passed over to Mudzuri. It was then that President Tsvangirai told me to issue a statement communicating to the world that in his absence, VP Mudzuri would be the acting President.
For the record, present in the meeting that Friday afternoon when Chamisa declined to act as President, apart from Dr Tsvangirai and I, was his wife Elizabeth, his brother Manaseh Tsvangirai, President Tsvangirai’s uncle Innocent Zvaipa and his lawyer Innocent Chagonda, who was later called to attend the meeting..
It is ironic that after I had issued the communication that Engineer Mudzuri was the acting president, Khupe took issue with me, saying that as the only VP elected at Congress, she was the one who should always act in the President’s absence as the other two VPs were appointed and not elected. I referred her queries to the President, under whose authority and direction I had done the communication.
When I relayed to him Dr Khupe’s concerns, President Tsvangirai just laughed off the whole matter and said if Khupe had issues around the acting Presidency, she should contact him directly.
Ironically, a month later, Engineer Mudzuri, for whom Dr Khupe had raised concerns when he was chosen to act, was to dispute my communication of the President’s directive that Chamisa was now the acting party leader.
President Tsvangirai gave me the directive to communicate that Chamisa was now the acting President on the 7th of February 2018 after he had learnt that Khupe, Mudzuri and Mwonzora were meeting with amai Joyce Mujuru in Cape Town for alliance meetings without his knowledge, and without the involvement of Chamisa ,the VP in charge of Alliance matters and to who he had given the responsibility to negotiate with other political leaders on his behalf.
My last face-to-face meeting with my boss was on Monday, 8 January 2018, the day before he left for South Africa, never to come back alive. The previous Friday, he had asked me to draft a belated New Year’s message to the people of Zimbabwe, in which he was hinting at his imminent retirement.
He told me that it was important to signal to the world that he would not hold the nation at ransom; that he would not needlessly hold on to the party presidency if his doctors told him his health would not permit him to withstand the intensity and rigour of an election campaign. He wanted to give advance notice to the people of Zimbabwe on the possibility of an imminent retirement, which retirement he would only confirm upon his return after consulting his doctors.
He perused his script, made minor corrections and certified that I distribute it, only for the same script to cause a major furore in the party, with some misguided elements holding the view that the statement intimating a possible retirement did not have president Dr Tsvangirai’s blessings.
It is important to state that present at the foyer of his Highlands residence as he authenticated that statement hinting at a possible retirement was his brother Manasseh and Jameson Timba, the latter who later arrived as the President and I were finishing the work on his script, in which he hinted at handing over the baton to the younger generation. It was a possibility which he said he would only confirm upon his return depending on the advice from his doctors.
Sadly, he was to return with his body lying in the soft requiem of death; the inimitable, raspy and raucous laughter never to be heard again at Harvest House.
He left for the infirmary in South Africa on Tuesday, 9 January 2018, never to return alive to the country and the people he loved so much. He regularly phoned and at one point asked me to come over to South Africa so we could discuss a lot of issues.
I told then acting president Mudzuri that president Tsvangirai wanted me down in South Africa. The then acting president promised to facilitate my trip before logistical impediments were deliberately thrown in the way to ensure that the trip never materialized.
President Tsvangirai later called to express his regrets that I had failed to turn up in South Africa. On Wednesday, 7 February 2018, he called again using a hospital staffer’s cellphone and told me that he had learnt and had even seen pictures to the effect that Mudzuri, Khupe and Mwonzora had left the country for a meeting in Cape Town without even the courtesy of informing him, leaving Chamisa as the only VP still in the country.
He said he was reverting to his earlier position on Friday, 5 January 2018 when he had delegated Chamisa to be the acting President. I could tell he was angry at the team that was in SA without his knowledge when he asked me to issue a statement communicating that Chamisa was now the acting President until his return from South Africa.
There are some who took issue with my statement but this is the Presidency we are talking about, a whole institution which has its own unique ways of operation and in which the whims of an individual staffer cannot just hold sway.
Even the then chief of staff Sessel Zvidzai can testify to the veracity of the President’s position when it comes to who was acting President at the time of Morgan Tsvangirai’s death.
President Tsvangirai told me from South Africa that his health was slowly failing him and that he might not make it back home alive. .
I felt tears swelling in my eyes before assuring him that he would be fine and he would rejoin us in the struggle soon.
Alas, that was never to be.
He was a close friend who would at times call me and my wife for dinner and to assure me that he took cognizance of my loyalty and committed service to the party and to himself, oftentimes with no salary.
He once invited me and my wife to his house for dinner where he shared many of his thoughts on a variety of issues in a convivial atmosphere. Also present at that meeting at his house in June 2017 was a mutual friend, Sydney Masamvu.
As the party and the nation mourned him, I could not help but reminisce on the many moments we shared; the many thoughts he intimated to me on controversial subjects such as family politics, succession and his vision for the future.
In our last conversation when he called from South Africa, he told me he had instructed the medical executives at the hospital where he was receiving treatment that apart from the members of his immediate family, I was also to be informed about his health.
That is how the medical staff kept in contact with me until they called to relay the tragic message that he had passed on. ,
His will remain a story of fortitude and tenacity. And there is no doubt that Morgan Tsvangirai left ineradicable footprints on the sands of the country’s history.
Indeed, Morgan Tsvangirai had a special dalliance with the month of Mach. It was the month he was born. And March was the month he won an election but did not win the Presidency.
Tsvangirai taught us that it is possible to defeat those who enjoy to murder and brutalise innocent citizens. On the eve of a crucial election this year, we remember that Tsvangirai taught us that victory is possible.
Rest in peace, Pakuru. And thanks for the memories
Luke Tamborinyoka is a citizen from Domboshava. He is a journalist and an ardent political scientist by profession. Tamborinyoka is a change champion in the Citizens Coalition for Change ( CCC ). You can interact with him on his Facebook page or on the twitter handle @ luke_tambo.