State radio: Zimbabwe’s vice president dies

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HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwean Vice President Joseph Msika, who served in President Robert Mugabe’s government for two decades, died Wednesday at the age of 86, state radio reported.

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwean Vice President Joseph Msika, who served in President Robert Mugabe’s government for two decades, died Wednesday at the age of 86, state radio reported.

No cause of death was immediately given. Msika, known to have suffered from a heart condition, had disappeared from public life for most of the past year and had been treated on several occasions in neighboring South Africa.

Mugabe had visited Msika in a private hospital in Harare Tuesday where he was in a critical condition and later announced his death to the party’s leadership, state radio said.

Msika, a veteran of Black activism against white rule, spent a decade in colonial-era jails for his political activities.

He joined Zimbabwe’s government in 1987 after a peace pact that ended an armed uprising against Mugabe in the western Matabeleland province. The pact united Msika’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union party with Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front.

The two parties fought a seven-year guerrilla war to end white-rule in Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was known before independence in 1980 but quarreled over sharing posts in the new independent government.

Msika became senior vice president to Mugabe in 1999 after the death of his predecessor.

A Mugabe loyalist, Msika was not linked to power struggles that dogged Mugabe’s party in recent years and was not seen as a power broker in the party.

Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party has seen its stronghold on the country weaken since a power-sharing agreement reached with the longtime opposition was implemented earlier this year and former Mugabe rival Morgan Tsvangirai became prime minister.

The unity government was formed to turn around an economic crisis that began with a land redistribution campaign in 2000. The often-violent campaign disrupted the agriculture-based economy of what was once the region’s breadbasket.

Mugabe, 85, blames Western sanctions for his country’s economic woes, even though they are targeted at him and his cronies and not the country.

Joice Mujuru, a former guerrilla fighter in the bush war, currently holds the post of second vice president.

John Nkomo, chairman of Mugabe’s party and a moderate ally of Msika, was seen likely to be elevated by Mugabe to stave off potential rivalry for the vice presidential post.

The position was retained by Mugabe’s party in the power-sharing government formed in February. Under that deal, former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai became prime minister.

No burial arrangements have been announced, but Zimbabwe next week marks the annual Heroes’ Day commemoration honoring fallen guerrillas and political leaders at a shrine outside Harare where Msika’s funeral is certain to take place.

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In photo: File – This Oct. 13, 2008 file photo shows Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, left, with newly sworn-in vice presidents Joyce Mujuru, right, and Joseph Msika, center, at state house in Harare, Zimbabwe. Zimbabwean state radio has announced Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2009 that Msika died after a long battle with ill health. He was 86. (AP Photo)

Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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