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Tuesday, 22 January, 2002, 17:24 GMT
Profile: Morgan Tsvangirai
Morgan Tsvangirai
Tsvangirai is a powerful public orator
Joseph Winter

Morgan Tsvangirai has risen from working in a mine to possibly becoming the next president of Zimbabwe.

Even if he does not win the March elections, he is already spending much of his time touring the world's capitals, hob-nobbing with foreign dignitaries.

Black and white MDC supporters
Many different groups support the MDC
His opponent, President Robert Mugabe, snootily calls him an "ignoramus" because of his humble background and lack of education.

But political analyst Masipula Sithole says: "What's most important is that he has common sense. If elected, he would surround himself with capable people and take their advice."

As the leader of Zimbabwe's opposition, he has been called a traitor on many occasions, been brutally assaulted and been charged with treason and terrorism.

Bricklayer's son

The charges were deemed unconstitutional but he does have a tendency to open his mouth before considering the consequences.

He told a rally of his Movement for Democratic Change: "If Mugabe does not go peacefully, he will be removed by force."

President Robert Mugabe
Mugabe calls Tsvangirai a white puppet

The 49-year-old son of a bricklayer says this was not a threat of armed rebellion but a warning of popular discontent.

It certainly played right into Mr Mugabe's hands and for a while, he ran the risk of a prison sentence and being disqualified from contesting the elections.

The catalyst for Mr Tsvangirai's transformation was his career in the trade unions.

After being plant foreman of the Bindura Nickel Mine for 10 years, he climbed the unionist ladder until in 1988, he was elected secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.

War veterans

As Zimbabwe's economy declined and workers' living standards plummeted, the ZCTU took an increasingly political role.

When Mr Mugabe tried to raise income tax to pay pensions for veterans of the 1970s war of independence, a ZCTU-organised nationwide strike forced him to back down.

The IMF are devils

Morgan Tsvangirai

For his part in defeating Mr Mugabe and the war veterans, a group of men burst into Mr Tsvangirai's office, hit him on the head with a metal bar and attempted to throw him out of his 10th floor window.

This was a foretaste of the war veterans' campaign of violence, which has led to the deaths of up to 100 MDC supporters in the past two years.

Buoyed by its initial victory, the ZCTU held further strikes against the government's "economic mismanagement".

But Mr Mugabe stood firm and after intense debate, the ZCTU helped establish the MDC in September 1999.

Its nationwide structures were crucial in helping the young party campaign for the June 2000 parliamentary elections, in which it won 57 seats - the best opposition showing in the country's history.

Propaganda coup

Despite its foundations in the black working class, Mr Mugabe says the MDC is a puppet of white farmers and the British government.

And many white farmers do support, campaign for and help finance the MDC.

Deserted bus stop
Trade unions have organised several anti-government strikes

The state machinery never tires of reminding voters that Mr Tsvangirai did not participate in the guerrilla war against white minority rule.

Mr Tsvangirai says that the farmers support the MDC's manifesto - which includes redistributing land to blacks - and do not influence policy.

But television pictures of white farmers queuing up to sign cheques with the MDC leader looking on were a propaganda coup for Mr Mugabe and some black critics of the president fear that: "He who pays the piper calls the tune."

Thankless task

For the moment, Morgan Tsvangirai is the figurehead for all the disparate groups opposed to Mr Mugabe: unemployed and low-wage blacks; wealthy white farmers and industrialists and ethnic Ndebeles who remember the government's murderous campaign against them in the early 1980s.

As a former miner and unionist, his heart is social democratic.

He used to blame many of Zimbabwe's economic woes on the IMF's structural adjustment programme.

"The IMF are devils," he once told the BBC's Focus on Africa.

Now, he is working closely with industrialists who argue that market forces should be left to solve Zimbabwe's economic problems on their own, without any government interference.

While his life is stressful at the moment, campaigning with the constant fear of having a secret service-inspired fatal "accident", if he becomes president, with the task of holding these groups together, that could be the day his troubles really begin.

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