Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has died in South Africa after a long battle with cancer, the vice-president of his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party says.
Mr Tsvangirai died after 18 months of treatment in South Africa. He was 65.
“I can confirm that he died this evening. The family communicated this to me,” MDC vice-president Elias Mudzuri said.
A powerful orator from humble beginnings, Mr Tsvangirai was arguably Zimbabwe’s most popular politician and came within a whisker of unseating Robert Mugabe, only to be outmanoeuvred and ultimately outlived by his long-time nemesis.
At the peak of his career, the self-taught son of a bricklayer served as prime minister under Mr Mugabe’s presidency in a 2009-2013 unity government cobbled together after a disputed and violent election in which scores of his supporters were killed.
Elections are due within the next six months in Zimbabwe and Mr Tsvangirai’s illness and now death leaves his party in disarray, to the advantage of the ruling ZANU-PF party, now led by former Mugabe deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Despite their rivalry, 93-year-old Mr Mugabe harboured grudging respect for an opponent who suffered multiple abuses at the hands of security forces, including a police beating in 2007 that left him with deep gashes in his head.
During their time in power together, the two men developed an uneasy working relationship, squabbling frequently but also taking afternoon tea every Monday and even joking about their frequent headbutting.
“I’ve got my fair share of criticisms and also dealt back rights and lefts and upper cuts. But that’s the game,” Mr Mugabe said on the eve of the 2013 vote, mimicking the movements of a boxer.
“Although we boxed each other, it’s not as hostile as before.
“It’s all over now. We can shake hands.”