Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has survived at least three assassination attempts. He’s been acquitted of treason in a case stemming from an alleged plot to kill longtime President Robert Mugabe.
Now nearly a year after he won the most votes in Zimbabwe’s disputed presidential election, he is set to become Zimbabwe’s prime minister as part of a long-delayed power-sharing agreement that allows Mugabe to remain president.
Tsvangirai, 56, a former trade union leader turned political activist, has emerged as the strongest challenger Mugabe has faced since taking power at independence from Britain in 1980.
Western governments have viewed Tsvangirai as an antidote to decades of dictatorial rule in Zimbabwe. But at home, some wonder how the soft-spoken, easygoing Tsvangirai can share power with Mugabe, who has rarely blinked at using violence to get his way.
Tsvangirai has faced the violence personally. In March 2007, police beat and tortured Tsvangirai during and after his arrest for attending an opposition meeting the government had banned. Images shown on news broadcasts around the world of his bruised and bloodied face came to symbolize the challenges his movement faced.
In one of the attempts on his life, unidentified assailants tried to throw Tsvangirai from a 10th-floor window.
He was imprisoned for six weeks in 1989 on allegations of spying for South Africa. In 2003, after an 18-month trial, Tsvangirai was acquitted of treason in a case stemming from an alleged a plot to assassinate Mugabe. Treason carries the death penalty in Zimbabwe.
Tsvangirai had triumphed over Mugabe in the first round of presidential polling last March but not by the margin needed to avoid a runoff. Tsvangirai’s party also toppled Mugabe’s party from control of parliament for the first time since independence in that March vote.
Then Mugabe’s police, soldiers and party militants attacked opposition supporters, leading Tsvangirai to drop out of the June presidential runoff.