Morgan Tsvangirai returned from his routine medical check-up in South Africa to face debate on whether he, along with his main rival President Robert Mugabe, are fit enough to withstand the rigours of a taxing election campaign that lies ahead.
The MDC leader flew into the country a day after Mugabe had arrived back home from his medical check-up in Singapore.
Tsvangirai had quietly slipped out of the country on July 7, fuelling conjectures that his health could have deteriorated.
After months of speculation over his deteriorating health, Tsvangirai disclosed for the first time in June last year that he had been diagnosed with cancer of the colon and was undergoing treatment in neighbouring South Africa.
Yesterday, his aides dismissed rumours that have been circulating on social media that the former prime minister had been given six months to live.
His spokesperson, Luke Tamborinyoka, said the former trade unionist was going for the jugular as he prepares to take on Mugabe in the keenly-anticipated 2018 elections.
“You know that those rumours are nonsense. These morbid rumour-mongers are alleging on the days in question that he was at a hospital in SA (South Africa) where a doctor told him of his impending death. But any serious person knows Kenya is not SA. Such ill-wishes will not detract the people’s president from his mission to liberate Zimbabwe from the clutches of this inept regime,” said Tamborinyoka.
With Mugabe having already hit the campaign trail, meeting up thousands of youths around the country, the MDC appears to be lagging behind amid speculation that Tsvangirai was not fit enough to take charge.
MDC secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora said the absence of rallies does not mean that the opposition party was dead.
If anything, he said it was an indication that the MDC has changed tact.
“Far from the president being sick, he is now fit enough and can lead rallies even on a weekly basis,” said Mwonzora.
“He is not physically infirm, he is actually recovering. It should be noted that the president has vice presidents and other people who can lead the rallies if he is not there,” he added.
Responding to the BBC’s Zeinab Badawi in a HARDtalk interview aired on Wednesday last week, Welshman Ncube, of the smaller MDC faction, said from the interactions he has had with Tsvangirai, he did not see any health problems that could hinder his nomination.
“I have not gotten the impression that he is in any medical state which will hinder him leading the opposition coalition if that is our collective view that he should be the candidate to lead the coalition,” the former MDC secretary-general said.
The MDC, which lost the 2013 elections by a wide margin, said it will not copy Zanu PF’s way of doing things.
Mwonzora said the party had self-introspected and reviewed its strategy over the years.
“While we used to do rallies, we are changing tact; we are now planning. Planning is getting the job half done. We have various recruitment programmes such as Bereka mwana tiende — a programme where we want the whole family to be politically conscious, and we have the women’s programmes such as Mhou nemhuru yayo. We are also building synergies with other parties, we are looking at churches, war veterans and other partners,” said Mwonzora.
“We have organisations at ward level; we have strategic meetings with traditional leaders, we are also looking at creating a coalition with genuine political parties and it has to be people who add value not just anyone. We are also dealing with internal discord so that we narrow our differences as a party and it is bearing fruit because if you look at it now we are perhaps the most stable political party in Zimbabwe. We are not going to be copying Zanu PF. Our main focus is recruitment of voters, we are going to have rallies yes but in our own time,” said Mwonzora.
This comes as there is growing consensus among the opposition parties that Tsvangirai is the ideal man to lead the envisaged grand coalition