Q&A With Zimbabwe's Embattled Prime Minister

For more than a decade, Morgan Tsvangirai has fought to unseat Africa's last Big Man, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. The effort nearly killed him. Tsvangirai was beaten, tried for treason, and jailed repeatedly. Then, last March, after elections most credit Tsvangirai with winning, Mugabe was pressured to make him his prime minister, and the two entered into an uneasy power-sharing arrangement. Tsvangirai spoke to NEWSWEEK's Scott Johnson. Excerpts:

You must have a sense of achievement.
There are significant developments: the signing of an agreement, the formation of the inclusive government.

You're working with people who have wanted to kill you.
I'm aware of that. The political divide has turned opponents into enemies. The polarization was unhelpful.

Has your image of Mugabe changed? You called him a tyrant. He behaved like one.
Mugabe's work over the last few years is indefensible, but ever since the agreement, we've agreed to work together.

Is he serious about making this work?
I have no doubt that he wants to see this through. He's got his own political constituency, which he feels is a restraining factor.

As you get more into this coalition, do you feel you're running up against a wall?
The constitutional process is started. The national healing process has been kick-started. The economic free fall has been arrested. The business community is feeling more confident. Production is increasing. There's peace in the country.

Western diplomats say they won't continue funding unless there's more change.
I can't force anyone to support Zimbabwe, but this is where we are and this is where we are going.

Do you think sanctions should go?
What we have here are travel bans. It's an imposition coming out of the circumstances of the time, informed by the fact that there was violence committed by the state against defenseless people. That is unforgivable. [But] it's now time to reengage the EU, the Americans, and to ask: can we normalize relations?

What have your interactions with Mugabe been like over these last months?
It doesn't matter how I explain it, because you won't be able to experience it. [Laughs] We meet once a week, talk about government business. I supervise all his ministers. But you don't just say, "Mr. President, I'm coming here, I'm talking about what's happening in electricity." You have to, over time, engage in personal relations. It's a progressive thing.

How have you engaged with him on a personal level?
I went through a very bad tragedy myself [Tsvangirai's wife was killed in a car crash a week after the election]. And he showed nothing but compassion.

Was he really concerned?
Absolutely. But you cannot stand up and say, you know, me and Robert Mugabe are bosom buddies.

Have you been surprised by anything?
He's human after all.

Do you think he's controlled by others?
He's in full control. Don't be fooled. He may be old and frail, but he's very astute.

Do you ever feel intimidated by him?
I've never been intimidated by anybody; otherwise how would I have stayed in this struggle for the last 10 years?

Is Mugabe worried about prosecution?
No. I think his main motivation is about legacy. It's not about outsiders. We all want to be loved, even when we don't do things to cause that love. But in the end, people want to remember us for the good things we have done, not the bad things.