Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has died aged 65 after a long battle with cancer.

Tsvangirai, who fought Robert Mugabe's regime for many years, died in South Africa on Wednesday, the vice-president of his Movement for Democratic Change party said.

"It is sad for me to announce that we have lost our icon and fighter for democracy," Elias Mudzuri said on Twitter.

Tsvangirai's death comes a week after he appointed one of his three deputies to take charge of the party while he underwent cancer treatment in South Africa.

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He had appointed Nelson Chamisa, 40, as acting president "until the president's return," Tsvangirai's spokesman Luke Tamborinyoka said in a statement last week.

"This is in light of the president's absence and that of the two other vice presidents who are both in South Africa," he said.

Tsvangirai announced in 2016 that he had colon cancer.

This week, local media reported that his condition had deteriorated in recent days, but Tsvangirai rejected the claims in a post on twitter saying he was shocked to read that he was critically ill.

"Of course I have cancer and not feeling too well but I am stable and the process is under control," Tsvangirai said, adding that "I am recovering".

Tsvangirai's career was marked by a long political struggle against former President Robert Mugabe.

Tsvangirai died less than three months after his longtime nemesis Mugabe was ousted by the military

His death comes ahead of crucial general elections in which new president Emmerson Mnangagwa has vowed a clean sweep.

Tsvangirai has led the MDC since its formation in 1999 and the party has posed the most formidable challenge to the ruling ZANU-PF party.