In the eyes of Zimbabwe and the world, Morgan Tsvangirai was like any other human being. He was not an angel.
He was a man whose flaws became fodder for local and international media hounds, a man whose moves were under the scrutiny of sympathisers and adversaries alike. Lately, some had written him off politically.
However, back in his Humanikwa Makuvise village of Buhera, Tsvangirai was not just the towering political figure with so much to account for, but a son, a brother, an uncle, and a fellow villager.
For the Buhera community, Tsvangirai was their man, their angel who treaded, not in heaven, but walked in political battlefields way beyond the borders of Makuvise. The young and the old, men and women felt honoured to have a son from their village challenging one of the worst dictatorships in the world, and they gave him nothing short of full, support.
They carried in their hearts a sense of ownership to the veteran politician’s ascendancy, and his vision was shared across the length and breadth of his village.
It is with this background that the drizzly night of February 14, 2018 will remain the darkest for the people of Humanikwa.
This was the night the angel of Humanikwa, Morgan Richard Tsvangirai, lost his battle with colorectal cancer and breathed his last, leaving a dark cloud hanging over his village and country.
Grief spread through the entire village, and hundreds made a beeline to the Tsvangirai homestead to pay their condolences as hearts broke and tears flowed.
According to 17-year-old Justice Makuvise — who lived in the same village as the late Tsvangirai — that Wednesday night is a day that will forever haunt the villagers.
“When I first heard the news, I thought it was just a hoax,” he said.
“But when I learnt it was true, everything began to sink in, and I could not help, but shed tears for it was beginning to dawn on me that indeed, we had lost a hero.
“More painful is that I had planned to vote for him when I turned 18, and I will not be able to do that.”
Latricia Jonga, who turned 18 recently, said she had registered to vote specifically for Tsvangirai.
“I was going to cast my first vote and I was going to vote for him,” she said.
“This is because he helped build our local school to promote access to education, as pupils no longer have to walk long distances. For that, he had my vote.”
A young man, who identified himself as Samuel, said: “I was with my friends (at the local shopping centre) in Buhera when I received a WhatsApp message saying Tsvangirai had died.
“We immediately rushed to the village and before we got there, it was evident that he was gone. The whole village was in disbelief. We all had strongly hoped he would come back alive and well.”
“He was like a father to me. I always admired how I could easily talk to him. This was a man who was once a prime minister and led a huge political party with millions of supporters.
“It was his humility that inspired me, and I want to be there to give this great hero a big send off.”
Having started his trade union career in his 30s and subsequently leading the MDC-T at 47 until his death at 65, Tsvangirai earned admiration across all ages.
He sat under trees and discussed issues with fellow villagers and every now and then he would slaughter a beast from his herd and invite fellow villagers to his homestead where they would feast.”
“He would visit every homestead, and whenever he hosted the feasts, everyone was invited,” said Ereck Munhanga, a general hand at Tsvangirai’s homestead.
Tsvangirai’s influence spread across the entire Buhera and Mai Matsivo, who stays in Makumbe, 12km away, walked to witness the funeral wake of a man she believed carried not only her hopes, but also those of her children and the younger generation.
“This was a man we believed was going to transform our country. I cannot explain enough but I do not think there is anyone who can be a champion for economic transformation like Tsvangirai,” she said.
Mai Matsivo, said she wished God had allowed Tsvangirai to live at least until after the 2018 election.
Another Makumbe villager, Mai Chifadza, said she had her hopes pinned on Tsvangirai.
“My backing for Tsvangirai was, as he also said it himself, for the future generation,” she said. “We are tired of our unemployed children in the villages and it was Tsvangirai who held the hope of getting these youths employed.”
Mai Chifadza said she hoped whoever would take over from Tsvangirai would follow the veteran politician’s vision and values.
The loss to the villagers goes beyond the individual that Tsvangirai was.
The veteran politician had greatly developed his homeland, facilitating the electrification of homes and installing water reticulation systems.
“We feel the absence of Tsvangirai will leave us abandoned because he was our only champion of development in our area,” said Kudakwashe Makuvise.
Linia Mapasure of the nearby Makanda village said: “we have an orphanage project and we had hoped that Tsvangirai would support us after winning the presidential elections.”
Although Tsvangirai’s relatives could not say anything about his death as they referred all questions to the family spokesperson, the atmosphere at the homestead was grim.
Meanwhile, John Takaenda Chivhu, a trade unionist from Buhera who was close to Tsvangirai, narrated how the former Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) secretary-general morphed into a politician.
Chivhima was with the National Engineering Workers’ Union from the late 1980s into the 1990s, at a time when Tsvangirai rose from being at the mineworkers’ union to be secretary-general of the ZCTU.
“We met during Tsvangirai’s early days at the ZCTU,” he said. “Tsvangirai showed that he was going to be the people’s champion when we were at Ambassador Hotel in Harare a few years after he had been elected to lead the ZCTU and we were meeting the then Labour minister, the late John Nkomo.”
“Tsvangirai was opposing the government’s Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (Esap) and he asked the minister why top government officials were now rich and owned fleets of cars and companies while the nation was suffering.
“Nkomo then approached us and said ‘why don’t you form your own party if you want to meddle in politics?’ and that’s how the journey began.”