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Zimbabwe's Morgan Tsvangirai - a Profile


In Zimbabwe, an alliance of pro-democracy groups says its tally of election returns shows that President Robert Mugabe has lost the presidential election to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, although a runoff may still be held. VOA's Scott Bobb in Johannesburg has this profile of the veteran dissident who delivered the major electoral defeat to Zimbabwe's independence hero.

Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has survived beatings, attempted assassinations, treason trials and challenges within his own party to become the country's leading opposition figure and defy President Robert Mugabe's 28 years of uninterrupted rule.

The political career of the former mine worker and trade-union leader has been marked by an unwavering criticism of the hero of Zimbabwe's liberation.

"Mugabe is now not only the president of the country," Tsvangirai said. "He is the institution that has run our country for the last 30 years. And look at the results: unprecedented levels of decay and misrule and repression. So he should be accountable."

Tsvangirai formed the Movement for Democratic Change party in 1999. The MDC took almost one-half of the seats in the parliamentary elections the following year, despite a campaign of violence that left about 30 supporters dead.

Tsvangirai challenged Mr. Mugabe in the presidential elections of 2002, which were also marred by extensive violence and voting irregularities, and lost by 400,000 votes.

The MDC split over Tsvangirai's decision to boycott the parliamentary elections of 2005. A splinter faction headed by Arthur Mutambara participated, but the split was a major factor in the overwhelming victory by the ruling ZANU-PF party.

Tsvangirai has been criticized for authoritarianism. In 2001, his supporters attacked party dissidents, and last year he installed his candidate for head of the party's women's wing in what critics said was an undemocratic fashion.

Tsvangirai says he has survived four assassination attempts. One of them, an attempt in 1997 to throw him out the window of his 10th-floor office, reportedly was only thwarted by the arrival of his secretary. He was also charged with treason on three occasions, but the cases eventually were dismissed.

In March of last year, Tsvangirai and several dozen opposition leaders were hospitalized after being beaten and jailed for staging a protest that had been banned by the government.

But Tsvangirai was unbowed. He said his attackers had brutalized his flesh, but would never break his spirit. As he told a recent campaign rally, he intends to soldier on until Zimbabwe is free.

"We will stand together," Tsvangirai said. "We will stand for food. We will stand for jobs. We will stand for justice. We will stand for freedom. We will stand as one."

Morgan Tsvangirai was born in 1952 in the Gutu area southeast of Harare in what was then called Southern Rhodesia. The eldest son of a bricklayer, he was obliged to leave school early in order to help support the family with nine children.

In 1974, he began working in a nickel mine in northeastern Zimbabwe and over the next 10 years rose to become foreman. In 1989, he was elected Secretary General of Zimbabwe's Congress of Trade Unions.

In 1997 and 1998, Tsvangirai led a series of crippling strikes against high taxes, which led the trade confederation to split from ZANU-PF and eventually to the formation of the MDC. Tsvangirai is also a founder and former chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly that seeks to reform the Zimbabwean constitution.