Zambian main opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema has congratulated Nelson Chamisa as he was elected the new opposition Movement for Democratic Change president, and said he hoped he would continue with the spirit of love, unity and democracy left behind by the late Morgan Tsvangirai.
Hichilema, an economist and businessman widely known as HH, made the comments in an official letter bearing a letterhead of his United Party for National Development (UPND) President's Office congratulating Chamisa, 40, for emerging as the new leader of the MDC following Tsvangirai's death on February 14.
"To you … Chamisa, the entire leadership and members of the MDC, we urge you to continue with the spirit left behind by …Tsvangirai, the spirit of love, unity and democracy which remained a driving force throughout his political career," Hichilema said in his letter to Chamisa.
This comes after Chamisa has also been picked to represent Zimbabwe's main opposition alliance in the presidential election.
Chamisa will try to unseat President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the veteran politician who replaced toppled despot Robert Mugabe as president.
The cunning Mnangagwa, 75, was sworn in on November 24, and has promised to hold free and fair elections in 2018, where he is seeking a first legitimate five-year mandate.
It is understood Zimbabwe goes to the polls in June or July to elect a president, lawmakers and local government officials.
The MDC National Council – the highest decision-making body outside congress – on February 15, endorsed Chamisa as acting president of the party, a day after Tsvangirai's death. The meeting was boycotted by vice presidents Elias Mudzuri and Thokozani Khupe, who were bidding to succeed Tsvangirai.
Mudzuri has since thrown his weight behind Chamisa – a charismatic speaker, indefatigable politician with star quality who possesses a brilliant intellect.
Last Friday, the MDC's consultative meeting held at the MDC headquarters, Harvest House in Harare attended by 639 delegates from 210 party districts, again unanimously endorsed Chamisa as Tsvangirai's successor and presidential candidate.
The meeting was attended by the national executive, provincial and district chairpersons from across the country, and erstwhile dissenters secretary general Douglas Mwonzora and Mudzuri also attended.
Hichilema said Tsvangirai, who was buried on Tuesday last week in his rural home of Buhera, was "a great son of Africa."
"It is with deepest regret and great sorrow that we in the UPND received the sad news of the passing on of … Tsvangirai.
"Tsvangirai was … a great son of Africa and a true leader who tirelessly and selflessly stood for that which was right in defence of the many Zimbabweans who came to identify with his firm belief, love and dedication to the cause of his people," Hichilema said.
"As we mourn this great son of Africa, I wish to convey on behalf of the UPND and indeed my own behalf, our deepest condolences to you Mr president (Chamisa), the entire membership of the MDC, … Tsvangirai's family and the people of Zimbabwe, on the passing on of this great man."
Hichilema, who was freed from prison in August last year after the State prosecutor dropped charges of plotting to overthrow the government, saluted Tsvangirai's sacrifice. Hichilema and five others were arrested in April last year and charged with treason after his convoy failed to make way for President Edgar Lungu's motorcade. His release helped defuse tensions in Zambia, where Lungu had imposed a state of emergency.
Hichilema, who like Tsvangirai has been beaten, humiliated and accused of treason, described the late MDC leader as an pro-democracy icon.
"To you Morgan my brother and colleague, I pay a befitting tribute. You braved it and stood up for the many voiceless Zimbabweans," Hichilema said in his letter to Chamisa.
"That which you began in life will not disappear in your death. The seed you sowed will soon flower and bear fruit. The millions of Zimbabweans that are now in grief will get relief out of the fruit of your labour.
"My fellow foot soldier of democracy, go well. We, as a party and other progressive Zambians, join the millions of Zimbabweans in mourning you and celebrating your illustrious political career."