Tribute to Susan Tsvangirai

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Mrs Susan Tsvangirai was always at her husband’s side in times of persecution in Zimbabwe. My encounters with her were but brief – at rallies and courtrooms. But they were all humbling.

As the wife of a crusading trade unionist and later leader of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, she often had to juggle the double life of raising the couple’s six children and hosting the hordes who come to their house everyday.

She was down to earth, a typical African woman, many say here in Harare.

Susan never wanted to be involved in politics but remaining extremely supportive of her husband. She attended many MDC meetings and did slogans but she was not cut for the world of politics. What many admired about Susan was that she knew that the success of “your family” was “dependent on the success of your country.”

She never moaned about what life was like for her and her children and the risks that came from living with Robert Mugabe’s nemesis. It was always about the children of Zimbabwe. It was a typical caring and motherly attitude that Zimbabwe had always wanted from its First Lady but never got.

A total contrast to Grace Mugabe, who is known for her extravagance, her shopping sprees, her love of designer labels, Susan was an ordinary woman who wore ordinary clothes and lived an ordinary lifestyle. That was striking.

When Morgan Tsvangirai won the first round of the presidential elections last year, and looked poised to oust dictator Mugabe, people flocked to Susan offering to groom her for her new role, remodel her hairdo and update her wardrobe. But she was actually annoyed by these overtures.

Trudy Stevenson, a former MP and MDC founding member said: “The most warm, human, down-to-earth person. She was Morgan’s anchor – and indeed the party’s! She was always so welcoming, so much ‘the mother’, and encouraged women in particular to be involved and be part of the group and the process for change (…) To her, everyone in the process for change was part of her family, and we all felt that, and responded accordingly.”

Susan rarely gave interviews to reporters. Ahead of the 2002 presidential elections which her husband controversially lost, she said she hoped to be a “mother of the nation”. “I am excited, but slightly daunted,” gathered.

“There is a lot of work to do. I am looking forward to being not only the mother of my own children but the mother of the nation as well (…) Despite all the intimidation and the security, there is no need to live in fear, because we are all going to die one day, violently or otherwise. There is nothing any of us can do about that.”

She met her husband in 1977 when Tsvangirai was working for Trojan Nickel Mine, and they discovered that they shared the same hometown of Buhera. They eventually had six children, and she tended to prefer her privacy over the political spotlight.

Every Sunday, if couple were in Harare, she went to worship at the Methodist church in Malbereign.

Susan lived briefly in South Africa late last year after security concerns around Tsvangirai and his family were raised. She only returned when the MDC leader finally agreed to join a power sharing with long time rival, Mugabe.

Left alone, Morgan would struggle to cope.

He once said that the best decision he had made in his life was to marry Susan. Her death is going to devastate him. He’s a very strong character, he has felt first-hand the worst that repression can offer, and he bears innumerable scars of his struggle against Mugabe.

But this is going to crush him. I just cannot imagine the pain and hurt that he’s going to feel, and it is going to make his already difficult task of being Prime Minister even harder.

Rest in peace daughter of Zimbabwe, a First Lady we longed for but never got.

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