Zimbabwe opposition leader: I have cancer

Mr Morgan Tsvangirai of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change party. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

Former Zimbabwe Prime Minister and leading opposition figure Morgan Tsvangirai has revealed that he has colon cancer.

The revelation throws into doubt Mr Tsvangirai's prospects of challenging President Robert Mugabe in the 2018 elections.

Mr Tsvangirai has been the veteran ruler’s strongest opponent since 1999 when he formed his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party.

He has not been seen in public for over a month, amid reports that he had been receiving treatment in South Africa.

Economic crisis

Mr Tsvangirai has also been absent from major demonstrations by the MDC, which was demanding President Mugabe's resignation for alleged failure to deal with Zimbabwe’s long running economic crisis.

The former PM said he was diagnosed with cancer last month in South Africa where he underwent an operation.

“However, a diagnosis of cancer is the first of several medical procedures that include treatment through chemotherapy, which treatment I began this week,” Mr Tsvangirai said.

“As a leader and public figure, I have taken a decision to make my condition public.

National leaders

“It is my belief that the health of national leaders, including politicians, should not be a subject of national speculation and uncertainty,” he added in apparent reference to President Mugabe’s health.

The 92-year-old leader has this year, on a number of occasions, flown to Singapore where he was reportedly receiving treatment for prostate cancer.

However, President Mugabe has in the past denied reports that he suffers from cancer, saying he had only gone to Singapore for eye cataracts treatment.

The reports of Mr Tsvangirai’s ill-health were likely to dampen the spirits of opposition supporters as the country gears for crucial elections in 2018.

Mass protests

Zimbabwe’s leading political parties have started rolling out campaigns for the polls with the opposition using mass protests against President Mugabe as one of the tools.

Mr Tsvangirai first challenged President Mugabe in the 2002 elections, two years after his then nine-month-old party almost defeated the veteran leader’s Zanu-PF party in parliamentary elections.

The ruling party was accused of rigging the polls, leading to Zimbabwe’s isolation from the international community and economic sanctions by Western countries.

In 2008, Mr Tsvangirai beat President Mugabe in the presidential polls but failed to garner the 50+1 per cent threshold stipulated in the constitution.

Controversial poll

The opposition leader was forced to pull out of a run-off poll after tens of his supporters were killed in political violence blamed on the army and war veterans.

Mr Tsvangirai and President Mugabe then formed a unity government in 2009, which ruled until 2013 where Zanu-PF defeated the opposition in another controversial poll.

The MDC leader refused to step down after the defeat, leading to the second split of his party, with the first one having occurred in 2005.

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