Morgan Richard Tsvangirai is a hero who, for the past 20 years, has spearheaded the fight for freedom in Zimbabwe, taking the fight up to an evil and treacherous foe.
He has endured despite being arrested on trumped up charges in 2000 and 2003; despite being arrested, incarcerated, beaten and battered in 2007, and arrested yet again in 2009.
The MDC leader was also cheated out of a deserved victory at the polls in 2008 and survived an assassination attempt on 6 March 2009 that claimed the life of his wife Susan. Now he is in constant pain as he battles cancer of the colon. We cannot in conscience ask any more of this man.
However Tsvangirai has run his race. It is time for him to stand aside and allow new leadership to emerge in his party. If he stands as a candidate in the 2018 elections, ZANU PF will chew him up and spit him out as they have done before. If he retires now, his future will be as an honoured elder statesman.
There is an eerie similarity between the two major parties. Both are led by failing leaders who are reluctant to nominate a successor and stand down. Should events overtake them and either leader be removed from the scene, his party will descend into chaos as factions and personalities vie to succeed him. The electorate is watching both sides with deserved apprehension.
The MDC must seize the moment. It would be a decisive stroke and perhaps Tsvangirai's greatest act of selfless leadership for him to announce his immediate retirement.
The emergence of Nelson Chamisa (Tsvangirai's most likely successor) as the new leader of his party and leader of the opposition alliance will give new impetus to the battle against Mugabe and ZANU PF.
Already, there is a report that the prospect of Robert Mugabe having to face Nelson Chamisa in the 2018 election has raised a red flag at the Central Intelligence Organization.
Tsvangirai and the MDC must seize this opportunity to wrong-foot Mugabe's forces and force them to completely change their tactics from a strategy of containment to offensive counter-intelligence, expending their resources in the process.
Groundswell for change
The electorate is weary. How can they be enthusiastic when they are faced with the same all-too-familiar scenario? We have the same contenders that we have had in every election since 2002: Robert Mugabe v Morgan Tsvangirai; the same contending parties: ZANU PF v MDC together with a number of vote-splitting minor opposition groups; the same electoral process conducted by a ZEC that answers to ZANU PF; and signs of the same ZANU PF vote rigging.
Why would not they expect the same inevitable result?
MDC leadership change could well be the spark that will reignite the fire in the belly of Zimbabwean voters. There is an increasing groundswell for change among Zimbabweans. A new, young, vigorous leader of the opposition will fill their hearts with hope and demonstrate that the MDC acknowledges the deep public dissatisfaction with current leaders and recognises that we cannot continue down the same path as before.
Seeing the 94-year-old Mugabe pitted against a young, unpredictable opponent will revive their interest and renew their desire to participate in the electoral process. They will believe that change is possible.
Challenges for Chamisa
Nelson Chamisa will not only be the leader of the MDC but he also will be vested with the mantle of leader of the opposition. He must quickly transform the MDC Alliance into the Zimbabwean Alliance and lead a truly united opposition into the election.
This Zimbabwean Alliance must be a coalition against tyranny and not a coalition for entitlement to political office. As I have written before, a united opposition will require a high degree of cooperation and respect for each other to get behind true leaders dedicated uplifting the people and restoring the nation. ZANU PF is tearing itself apart because its leaders are locked in a bitter struggle for power. A united opposition must avoid the same pitfall.
A united opposition implies having just one opposition candidate in each electorate who is supported by all opposition groups. Otherwise the opposition vote will be split and that will be disastrous.
The smaller parties will each make their contribution to a united opposition just as small streams fill bigger streams that become a raging torrent.
Now is the time for Morgan Tsvangiarai to deliver a masterstroke against ZANU PF by stepping down from leadership of the MDC in favour of a young leader. He will go into a well-earned retirement as an elder statesman revered by a grateful nation.
Tapson Muchena is an academic and a keen observer of the Zimbabwe situation. He can no longer remain silent.