Zimbabwe's Morgan Tsvangirai

Morgan Tsvangirai at a rally in July 2013

Morgan Tsvangirai has risen from working in a Zimbabwean mine to becoming the symbol of resistance to government repression to prime minister.

But after losing the 2013 elections by a landslide, even if he alleges widespread fraud, he now finds himself back to square one.

He may even face a challenge for the leadership of the Movement for Democratic Change, which he founded in 2000.

After the March 2008 elections, it seemed he was on the verge of finally unseating President Robert Mugabe.

He gained the most votes but, according to official results, not enough to win outright. Before the second round was held in June, his supporters were targeted in a campaign of violence and he pulled out.

After months of tortuous negotiations while the economy collapsed, he was finally sworn in as prime minister of a power-sharing government, in February 2009, with Mr Mugabe remaining president.

A charismatic public speaker, he is a brave man - constantly running the risk of arrest or assassination since emerging several years ago as President Mugabe's first credible challenger since the 1980s.

As the leader of Zimbabwe's opposition, he has been brutally assaulted, charged with treason and routinely labelled a "traitor".

In 2007, the world was shocked to see pictures of his injuries after police beat him after arresting him for taking part in a prayer meeting which they said was illegal.

President Mugabe said the veteran trade unionist "deserved" his treatment for disobeying police orders.

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, left, is seen with his wife Elizabeth Macheka during a traditional wedding ceremony in Harare, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, He married Elizabeth Macheka in a customary marriage which allows polygamy

But even some of his supporters - mostly young, urban residents - say he has been outmanoeuvred by Mr Mugabe and his allies.

He shared power for four years but has little to show for it.

Even if there was fraud in the 2013 elections, his critics say that as prime minister, he should have been able to prevent such alleged malpractices as the doctoring of the electoral roll.

His image was also tarnished by his complicated love affairs since his first wife, Susan, died in a car crash soon after he became prime minister.

Two women went to court to try to block his marriage to Elizabeth Macheka, 35, in September 2012.

A court agreed that he had already wed one of them in a traditional ceremony, so he was obliged to marry Ms Macheka in a "customary" union which recognises polygamy.

Bizarrely, all three of the women had close family links to members of Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party, lending credence to suggestions that he was the victim of dirty tricks.

But his critics say he has been too busy enjoying the trappings of power and has ignored the people he said he was fighting for.

'Dictator'

The eldest of nine children, Mr Tsvangirai left school while a teenager to help support his parents.

He has also had a large family - he had six children with Susan.

Morgan Tsvangirai's rise to power

  • 1952: Born in Gutu, central Zimbabwe
  • Left school early to seek work
  • 1974: Started working in a mine
  • 1988: Secretary general of trade union federation, ZCTU
  • 1997: Organised anti-government strikes, attacked
  • 1999: Helped form MDC
  • 2000: MDC won 57 parliamentary seats
  • 2000: Charged with treason, later dismissed
  • 2002: Lost elections to Mugabe, charged with treason
  • 2003: Charged with treason
  • 2005: MDC splits
  • 2007: Beaten by police
  • 2008: Comes first in elections but pulls out of second round, citing violence
  • 2009: Sworn in as prime minister
  • 2013: Loses elections, says they were rigged

Mr Mugabe snootily calls Mr Tsvangirai an "ignoramus" because of his humble background and lack of education.

The MDC leader once told me that his strategy to unseat the president was to wait while Mr Mugabe mismanaged the economy to such an extent that he was forced out of office.

This long-term, passive view has steered the country away from civil war and he is now prime minister.

But Mr Mugabe remains in power.

While in opposition, Mr Tsvangirai was a regular visitor to Harare High Court.

In September 2000, he told a rally of his Movement for Democratic Change: "If Mugabe does not go peacefully, he will be removed by force."

The 61-year-old eldest son of a bricklayer says this was not a threat of armed rebellion but a warning of popular discontent.

The treason charges were deemed unconstitutional but he does have a tendency to open his mouth before considering the consequences.

Just before the 2002 presidential elections, a mysterious video tape emerged, which allegedly showed Mr Tsvangirai discussing how to assassinate Mr Mugabe with a Canadian consultancy, Dickens and Madson.

The head of the consultancy, Ari Ben-Menashe, used to work as a lobbyist for the Zimbabwe government and he calls Mr Tsvangirai "stupid" for even speaking to him, let alone allegedly discussing killing the president.

Mr Tsvangirai was acquitted of treason, but for 20 months he had the possibility of a death penalty hanging over his head.

He was charged with treason for a third time in 2003, after calling for mass protests to oust Mr Mugabe.

The protests fizzled out under the force of police truncheons.

Despite his image as a freedom-fighter, some of Mr Tsvangirai's closest allies have accused him of behaving like a dictator on occasion.

He overruled a decision by the MDC leadership to take part in elections for the Senate in 2005 and ordered a boycott.

This led to a split in the party and another blow to his chances of toppling Mr Mugabe.

Revenge

Mr Tsvangirai used to be an official in Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party but he owes his political rise to his career in the trade unions.

Start Quote

The IMF are devils”

End Quote Morgan Tsvangirai

After being plant foreman of the Bindura Nickel Mine for 10 years, he climbed the unionist ladder until in 1988, he was elected secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.

As Zimbabwe's economy declined and workers' living standards plummeted in the 1990s, the ZCTU took an increasingly political role.

When Mr Mugabe tried to raise income tax to pay pensions for veterans of the 1970s war of independence, a ZCTU-organised nationwide strike forced him to back down.

In apparent revenge for his part in defeating Mr Mugabe and the war veterans, a group of men burst into Mr Tsvangirai's office, hit him on the head with a metal bar and attempted to throw him out of his 10th floor window.

This was a foretaste of the war veterans' campaign of violence ahead of elections in 2000 and 2002, which led to the deaths of more than 100 MDC supporters.

Contradictions

Buoyed by its initial victory, the ZCTU held further strikes against the government's economic mismanagement.

But Mr Mugabe stood firm and after intense debate, the ZCTU helped establish the MDC in September 1999.

Its nationwide structures were crucial in helping the young party campaign for the June 2000 parliamentary elections, in which it won 57 seats - then the best opposition showing in the country's history.

Morgan Tsvangirai after being beaten in 2007 The world was shocked at pictures after he was assaulted by police in 2007

Despite its foundations in the black working class, Mr Mugabe says the MDC is a puppet of white farmers and the UK government.

And, before they lost their land, many white farmers did support, campaign for and help finance the MDC.

The state-controlled media used to constantly remind voters that Mr Tsvangirai did not participate in the guerrilla war against white minority rule.

As a former miner and unionist, his heart is social democratic - roughly in the middle of Zimbabwe's deep economic and political divide.

He used to blame many of Zimbabwe's economic woes on the IMF's structural adjustment programme.

"The IMF are devils," he once told me.

But many in his party are industrialists who believe in the power of the free market, while Mr Mugabe and his allies see the world through socialist eyes.

After losing yet another election, it is not clear if we will ever get to see how he would like to run Zimbabwe.

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