Morgan Tsvangirai is the man who would defy Robert Mugabe. Now 56, Tsvangirai has been the public face of the opposition to Mugabe’s iron rule in Zimbabwe, first as a union leader in the mines, then in the minefield of politics with the Movement for Democratic Change.
“The regime wants you to give up,” he tells his supporters. “We live under the shadow of a criminal state. The dictator shall hold on to the little food available. The dictator shall give the few jobs to his cronies. The dictator shall reward the few who praise him.”
Tsvangirai launched the MDC in 1999, and a year later it had already become the most credible opposition to President Mugabe’s rule. In spite of violent intimidation during the campaign, which saw at least 30 of his supporters killed, the MDC took nearly half the seats in parliament.
“We are conscious of the extraordinary obstacles they faced to vote, and the exceptionalperformance of the MDC will ensure a healthy debate in parliament,” he said after the results were announced.
Healthy or not, Tsvangirai was soundly defeated in 2002’s presidential elections, a vote denounced as fraudulent by most independent observers. It led to accusations of treason against him, of planning a coup against Mugabe, charges carrying the death penalty. Tsvangirai denounced the charges as persecution, and was ultimately acquitted.
In court again in 2007, Tsvangirai bore the scars of battle when he was beaten up at a rally deemed illegal by Mugabe’s police. It was not the first time he had faced direct threats: ten years earlier, he escaped death when unknown attackers tried to hurl him out of the window of his office, ten floors up.