Zimbabwe?s opposition Movement for Democratic Change on Wednesday went into mourning for the divided party's founding national chairman, Isaac Matongo, who died in his sleep in the early morning hours at the age of 60.

Born in Masvingo on March 12, 1947, Matongo started his career in public life as a trade unionist in the 1980s. He became vice president of the National Engineering Workers? Union in 1988 when he was employed by PrecisionGrinders.

He later served as vice president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions with its then-secretary general, Morgan Tsvangirai, and its president, Gibson Sibanda.

Matongo was a member of the MDC faction headed by Tsvangirai. The party divided in late 2005 over the issue of whether to contest elections for the new senate.

The faction released a statement saying Matongo played a pivotal role in conceiving and launching the MDC in 1999. It said he and other labor and civic leaders convened the historic All Working National Peoples? Convention in 1999 which gave birth to the MDC in an effort to find a way out of an ever-deepening political crisis.

Matongo was elected national chairman and held that post until his death.

The MDC faction said his death came as "a blow not only to the party but the nation at large, particularly considering the challenges that our country is facing. His experience, wisdom and vision will be irreplaceable."

Matongo leaves his wife, eight children and 13 grandchildren.

Mourners told correspondent Thomas Chiripasi, who visited the Matongo family home in Harare's Warren Park 1 suburb, that his death came as a sudden shock.

For insight into Matongo's life, reporter Blessing Zulu turned to Mbare member of parliament Gift Chimanikire, who worked with him for 21 years.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...