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Wednesday, 28 February, 2001, 16:10 GMT
Zimbabwe's spokesman: Professor Jonathan Moyo
Professor Jonathan Moyo
By former Zimbabwe correspondent Grant Ferrett

Few people in Zimbabwe, apart from President Robert Mugabe, evoke such strong emotions as Professor Jonathan Moyo.

He is a former critic of the government who, in the space of 18 months, has been elevated to the position of information minister and the president's closest adviser.


Professor Moyo's rise to one of the most influential positions in Zimbabwe has been breathtaking

In that time he has succeeded in offending all sides.

The letters pages of privately owned newspapers frequently include denunciations of Professor Moyo.

One recently described him as "the most hated man in Zimbabwe".

Conversion

Professor Moyo's rise to one of the most influential positions in Zimbabwe has been breathtaking. As recently as May 1999 he was still writing newspaper articles that condemned President Mugabe in the strongest terms.

President Robert Mugabe
Moyo is now a close adviser to President Mugabe
"His uncanny propensity to shoot himself in the foot has become a national problem which needs urgent containment," wrote Professor Moyo in the Zimbabwe Mirror.

"Does the president not realise that when he belittles universal issues such as basic human rights he loses the moral high ground to his critics?"

Within months of that writing that article, Jonathan Moyo, had become the spokesman for the government-appointed Constitutional Commission.

His public relations style was characterised by an almost obsessive energy combined with vitriolic attacks on those who did not share his views.

The state-controlled media was saturated with news reports and advertisements supporting acceptance of a proposed new constitution.

But it was not enough as Professor Moyo and the government lost.

The draft document was rejected in a national referendum in February 2000.

Party promotion

In spite of this setback, Jonathan Moyo was appointed as the ruling Zanu-PF party's campaign manager for the June 2000 general election.

The approach that proved unsuccessful in the run-up to the constitutional referendum was repeated.

Voters during the election
Moyo's election campaign failed to persuade nearly half the population
The government's manifesto, which Professor Moyo clearly played an important part in drawing up, described the opposition as "plagiarists, sell-outs, shameless opportunists and merchants of confusion".

Support among whites for the opposition was summarised as "embittered racists using black mouthpieces to preach mean-spirited democracy".

After a campaign marked by widespread violence and intimidation, the ruling party won a narrow majority in parliament.

Political adviser

Professor Moyo was rewarded with a seat in the cabinet and the ruling party's policy-making body, the politburo.


How can he be effective when he's so unpopular?

Former Zanu-PF insider
Although he did not contest the election, President Mugabe appointed him as a non-constituency member of parliament.

His immediate superior in the politburo, Nathan Shamuyarira, describes him as "a very sharp, very bright intellectual.

"He's good at rebutting the arguments of the opposition and at articulating the [ruling] party's policies. He's a definite asset."

A former Zanu-PF insider disagrees: "It's only Mugabe who thinks he's an effective campaigner. How can he be effective when he's so unpopular?

"Mugabe is surrounding himself with people like Moyo - people who were appointed by him and owe their political fortunes to him."

Unexplained change

A former friend, who worked with Jonathan Moyo at the University of Zimbabwe before he launched his political career, said he was shocked to see Professor Moyo as part of President Mugabe's government.

"He was so anti-government in those days. He was the loudest critic. And now here he is as Mugabe's main cheerleader. I just don't understand it."

During a recent chance encounter at a local luxury hotel, the former friend asked, "Are you the same Professor Moyo I used to know."

The reasons behind his apparently sudden and complete change of heart remain unclear.

The opposition's information spokesman, Learnmore Jongwe, is scathing about his opposite number: "He's done a wonderful job for us."

"He tends to say things which the public couldn't possibly believe, and that just makes them angry. We hope that eventually he'll come clean and admit that he's on a one-man mission to destroy the Zanu-PF government."

See also:

23 Feb 01 | Africa
Zimbabwe minister sued
17 Feb 01 | Africa
BBC man ordered out of Zimbabwe
10 Feb 01 | Africa
Zanu-PF ups pressure on judges
10 Oct 00 | Africa
Zimbabwe radio battle
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