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Zimbabwe's Opposition Leader Morgan Tsvangirai 'Critically Ill'

Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai speaks during a news conference in November in Harare.
Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai speaks during a news conference in November in Harare.

Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is critically ill from cancer and may be near death, his family and supporters say.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports that Tsvangirai, 65, has colon cancer – a fact he revealed in 2016 — and family sources have confirmed that his health is deteriorating. She says he "is said to be suffering from exhaustion, weight-loss, and muscle thinning."

"From the medical report that I received yesterday the situation is not looking good," a source was quoted by Reuters as saying.

The news agency's source cautioned supporters to "brace for the worst."

Ofeibea says he "was for years the most outspoken opponent of ex-President Robert Mugabe under whose long rule the opposition leader was jailed, imprisoned and beaten."

Tsvangirai — along with the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) that he founded in 1999 — became a symbol of defiance to Mugabe's regime. A year later, he was arrested and charged with treason, but that charge was later dropped. He was again arrested and charged with treason for allegedly plotting to assassinate Mugabe, but acquitted on that charge in 2004. In 2007, Tsvangirai was again arrested and beaten while in custody.

Despite everything, he eventually agreed to become Mugabe's prime minister in a testy political power-sharing arrangement that lasted just four years before collapsing in 2013.

According to Reuters, Tsvangirai's illness has sown division inside the Movement for Democratic Change, as factions jokey to succeed him.

The news agency writes:

"Last month, Tsvangirai said it was time for the older generation to step back and make way for 'new hands,' raising prospects of leadership change.

Without its founder at the helm, the MDC is likely to face immediate instability and could even split, handing a gift to new President Emmerson Mnangagwa in an election expected within the next six months."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.