The leader of Zimbabwe's main opposition party is Morgan Tsvangirai. He is challenging President Robert Mugabe and three others vying for the country's top job. Mr. Tsvangirai, who is almost 50 years old, is a former trade union boss. In 1999, he helped create the Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC. Since then he has forged the first meaningful opposition to President Mugabe's rule since independence 22 years ago. In February 2000, Mr. Tsvangirai and his party celebrated victory when Zimbabweans rejected a referendum proposing changes to the country's constitution. It was the first time Mr. Mugabe or his party had ever been beaten in a public vote. The MDC also came close to beating Mr. Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF in the 2000 parliamentary elections, winning 57 parliamentary seats. Since then, scores of people have been killed in a campaign of violence and intimidation against the opposition or any dissenting voice. But Mr. Tsvangirai says no amount of intimidation or threats will intimidate them into submission. "We're conscious of the extent of the threats to me as an individual, and to the whole political leadership at various levels of the party. But we will do whatever we can to put in mechanisms for protection, but we can never eliminate the threat, it's always present". Morgan Tsvangirai was born in 1952 in the eastern town of Buhera, the son of a bricklayer. After secondary school he worked as a textile weaver and then as a mine worker. In the late 1980s Mr. Tsvangirai was head of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. In 1997, he led a series of strikes against proposed tax increases, bringing the country to a halt. Mr. Mugabe was forced to cancel the increases as well as plans for another tax to pay for war veterans' pensions. The opposition leader's base of support is mainly in urban Zimbabwe, especially among younger voters. He and his supporters see President Mugabe's latest push for land reform as a crude attempt to shore up the rural vote, traditionally the stronghold of the president's ZANU-PF party. Mr. Tsvangirai says he agrees with President Mugabe that land reform is needed, but adds that it should be orderly and should not destabilize the economy. "We believe that there is a better way of having a transparent and legal way". he adds, "But you can do that through an all stakeholders' land commission, which takes into consideration the supply and demand side of land, and the training, the building of schools and hospitals in those areas, something that is totally absent. What the government is doing is social dumping - it is not land reform - even in a fast track form". President Mugabe insists that land reform was vital to his struggle in the 1970s war of independence. And because people criticize him for the way he is implementing land reform, he often calls them traitors and terrorists. But Mr. Tsvangirai calls the charges ridiculous. "I think these labelings are totally absurd. I think he wants to maximize the demonization of the MDC - that it is not patriotic, that it is a front, that it is part of a wider conspiracy against the rights and sovereignty of the people. Far from it, we're just as patriotic as ZANU-PF. The fact that we differ politically does not at all mean that we're enemies". Mr. Tsvangirai says that difference is stated in their individual party manifestos. He says the MDC is running on a platform that recognizes that Zimbabwe has been plunge into what he refers to as unbridled anarchy. He says the MDC's priority is to restore law and order. He says his party has a stabilization and recovery program, because it believes the economy has been shrinking over the last three or four years, leading to massive poverty. About three-quarters of Zimbabweans now live below the poverty line. While Mr. Tsvangirai believes that Zimbabwe can rebuild, he says the country has to in his words "look positively beyond Mugabe." He says Mr. "Mugabe is history." The opposition leader says he worries that his country has squandered international goodwill. He says he and his supporters hope they can get it back.
Morgan Tsvangirai and his wife Susan have six children - three boys and three girls.