Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s prime minister, is no stranger to tough times - in politics and outside politics.
Born in 1952 to a bricklayer father in drought-prone Buhera, in the southeast of Zimbabwe, Tsvangirai prematurely ended his studies at Gokomere Mission to support his siblings.
The eldest of nine children, Tsvangirai worked at a textile mill in Mutare in the east, and later joined a nickel mine in Bindura, a town in the country’s north.
At independence from Britain in 1980, Tsvangirai became branch chairman of the National Mine Workers Union, rising through the ranks to become secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) in 1988, a post he relinquished when he formed the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in 1999.
Under his leadership, his labour federation challenged economic policy and lack of democracy in the 1990s.
In well-coordinated and crippling national strikes, workers staged street protests against meagre salaries, rising inflation, rampant corruption and deepening poverty.
Symbol of resistance
In 1998, Tsvangirai became chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly, a position largely seen as recognition for his leadership. His political career has been steadily rising, as he became a household name and a symbol of resistance.
When hired men unsuccessfully tried to throw him from the 9th floor of his Chester House office in central Harare, the capital, in December 1998, Zimbabwean workers spontaneously downed their tools.
A powerful public speaker whose personal life has been a source of embarrassment, he has six children with his late wife Susan, who died in a 2009 car accident.
Last September, he wed businesswoman Elizabeth Macheka, 36, but did not sign the legal marriage register due to a legal challenge to their union by the PM’s ex-lover Locardia Karimatsenga.
President Robert Mugabe's campaign has railed against his "immorality", saying he is not fit to be president.
But his relentless push for democratic change has won him several awards, including an honorary doctorate of Laws from Pai Chai University in South Korea and Solidar Silver Rose award.
In the 2008 elections he was the main challenger to Mugabe and his ZANU-PF and managed to win 47 percent of the vote against Mugabe’s 43 percent.
But because his victory fell short of the threshold needed to avoid a second round, a runoff was organised in which Mugabe was the sole candidate as Tsvangirai boycotted the vote due to intimidation and harassment of his supporters.
Tsvangirai joined the unity government formed in 2009, and has since served as prime minister in what has largely been a tense and uneasy coalition.
“The last four years have been a painful transition characterised by the absence of a genuine partner to the cause, a period which saw unilateral decisions being made, agreements not being fulfilled, U-turns on agreed positions,” said Tsvangirai of the coalition.
At a recent campaign rally, Tsvangirai addressed tens of thousands of people in Mutare, home to a 60,000-hectare stretch of the richest diamond reserves in the world and biggest find in the 19th century.
Clad in red T-shirts and waving tiny red cards, the lively crowd sang and danced, waiting for the arrival of the man who has posed the first serious threat to Mugabe’s 33-year stranglehold on Zimbabwean politics.
Now squaring off with the veteran Zimbabwean leader for the third time since 2002, Tsvangirai is leading what he calls a generational battle against Mugabe that will culminate in the July 31 vote.
"He's like a Biblical Moses, he is taking us to Canaan," gushed Sharon Mutero, 44, clad in a red T-shirt and a bandana emblazoned with the candidate’s name.
Tsvangirai’s support comes largely from people like Mutero, who hope for better days ahead after a decade of economic meltdown that critics blame on Mugabe's previous government.
Source: Al Jazeera