Morgan Richard Tsvangirai
Date of Birth: 10/03/1954
Place of Birth: Gutu
Ethnicity: Shona - Karanga
Son of Chibwe Tsvangirai and Lydia Zvaipa
Career: Factory Worker, Mutare Plastics and Tapes, 1972; Plant Operator rising to Supervisor, Trojan Nickel Mine, 1974-84; Chairman, Trojan Branch of Associated Mineworkers Union, 1980-83; Member, National Executive of Associated Mineworkers Union, 1983-85; Vice-President of Associated Mineworkers Union, 1985-88; Secretary-General of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), 1988-99; served as Secretary-General of Southern African Trade Unions Coordinating Council; President of Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), 1999-05; President of MDC-Tsvangirai, 2005 to date; Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, 2009 to date.
Commentary: Morgan Tsvangirai has been a pain in the neck for Robert Mugabe since he became Secretary-General of the ZCTU in 1998 and withdrew the union from the grip of ZANU-PF. In the absence of a strong opposition party, following the merger of Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU in 1987, the labour movement was viewed as a political threat to the ruling party. There was even an assassination attempt on Tsvangirai in 1997 when a group of seven tried to throw him out of his 10th floor offices.
Under pressure to create an alternative to ZANU-PF Tsvangirai led the ZCTU and other civic organisations to form the Movement for Democratic Change in 1999. He was also Chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly which led the campaign to vote against the proposed new constitution, drafted by Mugabe in February 2000, marking the first defeat Mugabe had suffered since taking power. The MDC nearly kicked ZANU-PF out of office in the June 2000 parliamentary elections when it won 57 out of the 120 elected seats in parliament
Mugabe’s answer was to unleash unprecedented violence against MDC supporters. Tsvangirai was arrested and charged with treason but later acquitted. He challenged Mugabe in the presidential elections of 2002 and lost, but claimed the elections were rigged. There was a serious challenge to his leadership when his top lieutenants Welshman Ncube and Gibson Sibanda led a breakaway group that wanted to contest the 2005 senate elections, which Tsvangirai had said should be boycotted. The MDC had suffered a major loss in March 2005 when it won only 41 of the 120 contested seats. Ncube walked out with a majority of the Members of Parliament, virtually becoming the official opposition. Tsvangirai was forced to rebuild the party but Mugabe never shifted his eyes off Tsvangirai because he realised he had the support of the people and continued to harass and arrest him.
Tsvangirai surprised everyone, including himself, when he won the presidential elections in March 2008 but his indecision on what to do next, gave Mugabe a chance to reassert himself, dispute the results and call for a re-run. Mugabe unleashed a wave of violence that saw Tsvangirai flee the country, thus giving Mugabe breathing space. When Tsvangirai pulled out of the re-run as a consequence of the violence inflicted on his supporters, Mugabe went ahead with the one-candidate election and was quickly sworn in. He could not, however, hold the country
together and was forced to sign a power-sharing agreement with Tsvangirai on 15 September.
Tsvangirai was sworn in on 11 February. Though he has been criticised for failing to confront Mugabe head-on after his election victory, he is steadily asserting his power. His long years in the labour movement where everything had to be agreed upon by consensus could be a major setback because at times he has to go with the decision of the majority when he might not personally agree with that decision.
He has also demonstrated that he can withstand tremendous pressure. He has managed to contain his supporters, civic society and donors who still want vengeance against ZANU-PF. He has remained constant in his support for the inclusive government.
He was not even swayed by the death of his wife on 6 March, four days before his 57th birthday, though there were cries of foul play. He has also managed to contain his Secretary-General, Tendai Biti, who seems to be still playing to the gallery. His biggest problem could come from Bulawayo where there are already two distinct factions, one supporting him and the other his deputy, Thokozani Khupe. The infighting could play into the hands of Dumiso Dabengwa, who has revived the ZAPU, which once dominated the city and the entire Matabeleland.