(b. Gutu, Zimbabwe, 10 March 1952)
Zimbabwean; Prime Minister 2009– , leader Movement for Democratic Change 1999– The oldest of nine children of a bricklayer father, Tsvangirai left school with little formal education in order to help support his family. He worked in a mine in his early twenties and rose to become plant foreman at Bindura nickel mine, while being active in the Associated Mineworkers' Union. In 1988 he was elected Secretary-General of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trades Unions (ZCTU), an organization which was allied to Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.
In 1997 and 1998 Tsvangirai led strikes protesting against high taxes imposed by Mugabe's government, leading to a split between ZCTU and ZANU-PF, and in 1999 Tsvangirai formed the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). In spite of significant violence, MDC mounted a serious challenge to ZANU-PF in the parliamentary elections of 2000, taking 57 of 120 seats.
Prior to the 2002 presidential elections in which he planned to stand, Tsvangirai was accused of treason, having allegedly made threats to assassinate Mugabe. Tsvangirai lost the election amid violence and claims of voting irregularities. He was acquitted of the treason charge but faced a similar charge after calling for mass protests against Mugabe in 2003. Tsvangirai influenced the MDC to boycott parliamentary elections in 2005, a move unpopular with some party members. A ferocious police attack on Tsvangirai, who had been taking part in an ‘illegal’ prayer meeting, caused international outcry in 2007. At this time, Mugabe's government was failing—Zimbabwean living standards were plummeting, inflation reached dizzying heights, and many people had fled the country in search of work and food. Tsvangirai stood against Mugabe again at elections in 2008. Amid violence and controversy, the election results were delayed, but when they were finally announced, it appeared that, although Tsvangirai had beaten Mugabe, his majority was too small to avoid a second, run-off election. Amid increasing violence and threats, Tsvangirai withdrew and Mugabe claimed victory. International outcry followed this apparent injustice. Talks between Tsvangirai and Mugabe led to the signing of a power-sharing agreement in September 2008. It was agreed that Mugabe would retain the presidency while the position of Prime Minister would be reinstated, with Tsvangirai in the post. However, Mugabe continued prevaricating, attempting to retain the prime government posts for his supporters, and it was not until February 2009 that Tsvangirai took up the post. Tragically, just weeks later, his wife was killed and he was injured in a car crash which may have been engineered by his political opponents.
A charismatic speaker, Tsvangirai has been accused of making rash statements, but it is hoped that he will be instrumental in rebuilding the country.