Alternative: Who is Morgan Tsvangirai? by underground

Death of a nation – Part Six: Alternative: Who is Morgan Tsvangirai?

There is a consensus, at least in the West, that Mugabe is a pretty bad man, to apply a typical Kiwi understatement. But who is the man most would have replace him? Who is Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the MDC, who decimated Mugabe in the polls, all those weeks ago?

Born on March 10, 1952, in the Gutu area of what was then known as Southern Rhodesia, Morgan Richard Tsvangirai was the eldest of nine children and the son of a carpenter and bricklayer. He left school at an early age, finding employment in the Trojan Nickel Mine in Mashonaland Central. In 1980, aged 28, Tsvangirai joined the victorious Zanu-PF, and is reported as having been an ardent Mugabe supporter at the time. He rose quickly through the ranks, eventually becoming a senior official. He was influential in the country’s union movements, particularly mining unions, and in 1989 he became Secretary-General of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. Tsvangirai led the ZCTU in a split from its alliance with Zanu-PF, which deteriorated his relationship with the government. He has since been a victim of government abuse, including four assassination attempts, one of these involving CIO secret police (Central Intelligence Organisation) breaking into an apartment, and trying to throw him from the tenth floor, in 1997.

In 1999 he formed the Movement for Democratic Change in opposition to Mugabe’s Zanu-PF. In 2000 he was arrested and charged with treason, however the charge was eventually dismissed. In 2004 he was acquitted of treason, this time for an alleged plot to assassinate Mugabe prior to the 2002 presidential elections. He has been arrested on countless occasions, ironically once in 2001 under the Law and Order Maintenance Law, which was used by the colonial government to arrest freedom fighters.

The abuse lashed out to the opposition leader by the Zimbabwean government gained international attention when footage of a beaten Tsvangirai was smuggled out the country. Following his arrest on March 11 2007, he was heavily beaten and tortured by police, apparently passing out two or three times. The images of a bruised and bloodied Tsvangirai caused an international outcry. The cameraman who took the footage, Edward Chikombo, was found dead soon after.

In 2001 Morgan Tsvangirai was awarded the prestigious 2001 Solidar Silver Rose Award, which is awarded to those “Individuals and organisations whose outstanding work is fuelled by vision and tireless commitment and whose achievements have contributed greatly to the struggle for a just and civil society”.

But what kind of leader can we expect Tsvagirai to be? Recall that Mugabe started out a successful leader and a friend of the West, but has since ruled his nation to ruin. Could Tsvangirai do the same, or will he more in the Mandela mould, a unifier who can heal the wounds of the past? He has been accused of behaving like a dictator by close allies after a split in the party in 2005, so perhaps there is cause for concern there. Is this perhaps a sign how he may govern in the future?

The Telegraph’s David Blair questions whether the MDC can really run the country, considering the party’s leader cannot use a calculator. I assume the article to be a lame attempt at satire. Not too far dissimilar to Mugabe’s belief that he is an “ignoramus”, due to his humble background and lack of formal education. Many uneducated leaders have governed nations well, and educated leaders have lead their countries to ruin. Perhaps more seriously, John Makumbe, who is a political scientist at the University of Zimbabwe, questions his leadership abilities, in respect to his leaving the country when political violence stokes up.

If he doesn’t come back he will be demonstrating that he is fearful of Mugabe, therefore he is less of a leader than Mugabe and that will have very serious implications on his qualities as a leader.

This opinion was backed by Bill Saidi, the deputy editor of the South African Sunday paper The Standard, who said the impression created by the self-imposed exile was that Tsvangirai was more concerned about his own safety than that of his supporters.

“If you are in a struggle . . . and if you are not in front to back your people, then you weaken the struggle,” said Saidi.

As admirable as it would be for Tsvangirai to remain in Zimbabwe to show his solidarity with his supporters, there is nothing to be achieved by being beaten up once again by Mugabe loyalists. The focus should not be on whether Tsvangirai stays put and toughs it out, but on the government who are using violence as a political tool. Nelson Chamisa, the chief spokesman for the MDC, replied to the objections of Tsvangirai’s absence saying questions should be asked of Mugabe and his regime rather than the opposition.
“The issue is about violence and the killing of people and the pressure should be put on the Zanu-PF regime to end the violence. The regime is on the rampage,” said Chamisa.

Tsvangirai has taken enough beatings for his cause and it is remarkable that anyone would question his solidarity with the people.

Mugabe accuses Tsvangirai and the MDC of being puppets for the West. Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa says Tsvangirai is anti-Zimbabwean. The West, in particular the US and UK, certainly have a history of overthrowing or assisting the removal of popular leaders and installing tyrants who rule contrary to the desires of their people, rather for the benefit of their Western backers. I do not believe this to be the case here. We can be without any doubt that Mugabe is a tyrant himself, who we know to punish his own people especially dissidents. We have seen the injuries inflicted on Tsvangirai and others. Many of us have met and spoken to those who have fled the country, having lost their family’s land. We know that Western media is not allowed in the country, and that their elections are conducted without adequate international observers. We know that Tsvangirai received a large proportion of the votes in the first Presidential election, despite evidence of vote rigging. His MDC party also fared very well. Tsvangirai is not a Western puppet, he may have Western support, but ultimately he is supported mainly by his people.

My only concern with Tsvangirai is whether he is capable of leading a country. But this concern is no different with any leader of the opposition with limited experience in power. This extends from John Key to Barack Obama. Most important is that these new leaders not divisive, particularly in countries like Zimbabwe were there has been conflict. He must be inclusive, and give no faction reason to feel aggrieved or marginalized, as this well only ensure conflict reignites. Tsvangirai appears to have these qualities, and if surrounded by intelligent and experienced colleagues, as well as backed by the African and wider international community, he should hopefully be very successful.

Can he lead Zimbabwe back from ruin? Not too sure. Should we support him against Mugabe? Definitely. He represents the resistance. He has the popular support. He should be given all the assistance necessary to repair Zimbabwe. Once Mugabe has been removed, of course.

MDC – Leader Profile

Wikipedia – Morgan Tsvangirai

Timesonline – Profile: Morgan Tsvangirai

Morgan Tsvangirai: “They brutalised my flesh but will never break my spirit”

24.com – Who’s Who: Morgan Tsvangirai

BBC News – Profile: Morgan Tsvangirai


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