Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has died at the age of 65, bringing an end to his long campaign to lead his country.
Elias Mudzuri, a vice president of his Movement for Democratic Change party, said Mr Tsvangirai died on Wednesday evening in a Johannesburg hospital. He had been fighting colon cancer for two years.
Mr Tsvangirai was for years the most potent challenger to long-time ruler Robert Mugabe and even became prime minister in an uncomfortable coalition government.
He came tantalisingly close to winning power in 2008 when he got the most votes in the national election, but according to official results, he was just short of the more than 50% majority needed to win outright.
He boycotted the run-off, citing widespread violence against his supporters, handing Mr Mugabe the victory.
Mr Mugabe resigned in November after pressure from the military and ruling party, and this year’s election will be the first without the man who led the southern African nation for 37 years.
In January, Mr Tsvangirai suggested he would be stepping down, saying he was “looking at the imminent prospects of us as the older generation leaving the levers of leadership to allow the younger generation to take forward this huge task”.
Being Mugabe’s most prominent opponent brought Mr Tsvangirai considerable hardship, and he was jailed several times and charged with treason.
He suffered a fractured skull and internal bleeding in 2007 when he and more than a dozen other leaders of the MDC were arrested and beaten with gun butts, belts and whips.
In an earlier incident Mr Tsvangirai was almost thrown from his office window by a government agent.
“Morgan Tsvangirai will be remembered as one of Zimbabwe’s great patriots,” opposition figure and human rights lawyer David Coltart said.
“Although, like all of us, he made mistakes none of us ever doubted his commitment to transform Zimbabwe into a modern, tolerant state.”
“Thank you for making it possible for people like me to find the courage to say enough is enough,” said pastor Evan Mawarire, who led large anti-government protests in 2016.
“Zimbabwe owes you a great debt.”
Born on March 10 1952 in the rural Buhera area south-east of the capital, Harare, Mr Tsvangirai was the oldest of nine children.
After graduation from secondary school he worked at the Bindura Nickel Mine for 10 years, eventually becoming plant supervisor.
It was during the years of the nationalist war against white minority-ruled Rhodesia, and Mr Tsvangirai later said he did not join the guerrilla fighters because his salary supported the education of his younger siblings.
When Zimbabwe became independent in 1980, he joined Mr Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and became active in trade unions, rising to become secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.
It had been a loyal supporter of Mr Mugabe and ZANU-PF, but under Mr Tsvangirai’s leadership it became a vocal critic of the government.
The labour federation became a key component of an emerging network of anti-government civil society groups including lawyers, students and churches demanding an end to worsening human rights abuses and deepening economic problems.
In 1999 he founded the MDC, which attracted support from blacks and whites and in rural and urban areas.
The party quickly became a serious challenge to Mr Mugabe’s party.
Nine months after its formation, the MDC won 57 seats in parliament, five short of the ruling party’s 62, the first time Mr Mugabe’s party came close to losing its parliamentary majority.
Mr Tsvangirai then continued for years as the country’s opposition leader, facing significant repression from Mr Mugabe and ZANU-PF.
During his time as prime minister, Mr Tsvangirai was credited with bringing stability and international goodwill.
His long struggle as Mr Mugabe’s main challenger was credited with helping to keep a measure of democratic space open in Zimbabwe.