Zimbabwe’s veteran opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai could be retiring from active politics, just months before his fourth shot at the presidency. Tsvangirai is undergoing treatment for cancer. He recently issued a statement suggesting he may step down to make way for a younger leader.

In 1999 a firebrand trade unionist who had organized a series of crippling anti-government protests made the plunge into politics. He achieved the improbable against a previously unrivalled opponent

“It is in Morgan Tsvangirai that ZANU PF got their biggest scare. It’s from Morgan Tsvangirai that they got their biggest threat and in truth and deed Morgan Tsvangirai was the first person to defeat Robert Mugabe in an election.” Raymond Majongwe, trade unionist said.

Over the last 18 years, Morgan Tsvangirai has been locked up, beaten and harassed but not silenced. He eventually forced Robert Mugabe into a power-sharing government in 2009.

Tsvangirai was accused of betrayal by agreeing to sup with his arch-rival, but some argue the compromise was the only option to rescue Zimbabwe from total collapse. With the MDC on board the economy rebounded and international confidence was restored.

“If you are going to judge by what the GNU brought to Zimbabwe it at least brought some smiles of the faces of civil servants, on the face of farmers and it almost restored something back to Zimbabweans.” Majongwe said.

Critics say caught up in the trappings of power Tsvangirai was unable to see a resounding ZANU PF victory in 2013.

The MDC insists the election was rigged and has vowed to bounce back in elections later this year. Tsvangirai is officially its candidate, but a debilitating battle against colon cancer may have taken the fight out of him.

“He has come to that level where he has to accept that he has done his part and has to hand over the baton but the legacy is truly and well set.” Rejoice Ngwenya, a political commentator said.

For many Tsvangirai is not just the leader of the MDC, but also the face of the opposition in this country. If he decides to make way he’ll be difficult to replace.

An alliance of opposition parties is divided over its presidential candidate should Tsvangirai fail to run.