Zimbabwean presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai is hoping to unseat President Robert Mugabe at the July 31 poll. The election will be Tsvangirai’s third attempt to oust the 89-year-old who has ruled since 1980.
The eldest of nine children, Morgan Tsvangirai was born in Southern Rhodesia on March 10, 1952. He undertook his early education at St. Marks Goneso and Chikara Primary Schools, before attending secondary school at Gokomere High.
Upon completing his education in 1973, Tsvangirai began work at the Trojan Nickel Mine where he was an active member of the Associated Mineworkers Union.
When Southern Rhodesia gained independence from Britain in 1980, and the Republic of Zimbabwe was formally proclaimed, 28-year-old Tsvangirai joined the ZANU-PF party headed by Robert Mugabe. An ardent Mugabe supporter, Tsvangirai quickly rose to become one of the party’s senior officials.
In 1988, after working his way through union ranks, he was elected to the position of secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), the national federation of trade unions.
Opposed to Mugabe’s planned taxation policy, Tsvangirai successfully led a series of strikes against the president in 1997-98. After 12 years serving as chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly, a non-governmental organization formed to support the creation of a new Zimbabwean constitution, Tsvangirai resigned to form a party in opposition to Mugabe. The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was born with the support of the ZCTU, a former ally of Mugabe’s ZANU-PF.
Tsvangirai was forced to flee the country after receiving death threats
Zimbabwe’s nationwide referendum in February 2000 was a coup for Tsvangirai and his party, as it helped them garner the support needed to defeat the government’s controversial constitutional reform bill which included sections to extend Mugabe’s rule and expropriate farms from white landholders. Four months later, at the national parliamentary elections, Tsvangirai’s MDC party provided one of the most serious opposition challenges in the country’s history, winning almost as many seats as ZANU-PF.
Shortly before the 2002 presidential election, Tsvangirai was charged with treason for allegedly plotting Mugabe’s assassination. After a long trial, he was acquitted for lack of evidence. After calling for mass protests to overthrow the president in 2003, Tsvangirai was again charged with treason, but acquitted at trial.