|Tsvangirai has been charged
with treason three times [EPA]
On his party’s official website, the leader of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party the Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai, is described as “a self-made person, a solid administrator, competent thinker, charismatic leader, democratic team player and above all, a compassionate family man.”
The former trade union leader is unlikely to receive such glowing praise from Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s longtime authoritarian ruler.
Tsvangirai has been a constant political thorn in the side of the president since he formed the MDC in 1999.
The intervention of police at a prayer rally organised by opposition supporters in Harare that reportedly left one person dead and Tsvangirai suffering from serious head injuries is the latest confrontation between MDC supporters and the Zimbabwean police.
The litany of mistreatment Tsvangirai has suffered at the hands of Zimbabwean authorities includes three charges of treason, several beatings and repeatedly being branded a traitor by Mugabe and members of his Zanu PF party.
He was arrested and imprisoned for six weeks as far back as 1989, when he was accused of being a South African spy.
Treason charges filed after the 2000 presidential election were subsequently dropped and in 2004 he was acquitted of treason for his part in an alleged plot to assassinate Mugabe.
It transpired that the head of the consultancy that Tsvangirai was alleged to have been discussing a possible assassination plot with was Ari Ben-Menashe, a former lobbyist for the Mugabe government who described the MDC leader as “stupid” for even talking to him.
Electoral defeat in 2000 was repeated in the presidential vote of 2002 and the MDC lost further ground in parliamentary elections 2005.
Each vote has provoked allegations of fraud, manipulation and vote-rigging against the government and Tsvangirai has called for reform of the electoral roll which he says the government has previously manipulated to ensure abnormally high Zanu PF turnout in some areas.
Tsvangirai is used to battling adversity. He is the eldest of nine children of a bricklayer in the central Gutu area of Zimbabwe and after rising through Zimbabwe’s mining unions became the secretary-general of the Zimbabwean trade union congress in 1988.
He has survived three assassination attempts including being thrown out of the window of his tenth-storey office in 1997.
Despite Zimbabwe’s acute economic woes, president Mugabe has offered little encouragement to those wishing to see the back of him by saying he will contest elections next year.
Some opposition members have criticised the passive attitude of Tsvangirai that has avoided serious civil strife but seen his party make little electoral headway, yet the resilient, charismatic MDC leader his likely to get one more shot at the presidency and his old nemesis.