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Last Updated: Friday, 21 January, 2005, 08:37 GMT
The rise and fall of Mugabe's spin doctor
By Joseph Winter
BBC News

Jonathan Moyo's rise from academic critic to information minister of Zimbabwe was meteoric but it seems as though he may have a rocky landing.

Jonathan Moyo
Moyo denies performing a U-turn
After being sacked from his senior position in Zimbabwe's ruling party, he is standing as an independent in the 31 March parliamentary elections.

He has also taken two ministers to court for defamation after they allegedly accused him of plotting to oust President Robert Mugabe.

Having spent four years firing off personal insults at the opposition, he has now redirected his poison pen and has called his two former cabinet colleagues "primitive liars".

The sharply dressed, suave professor with an acid tongue first made his name at the University of Zimbabwe as an outspoken critic of President Robert Mugabe.

As recently as May 1999 he wrote in a national newspaper of the president: "His uncanny propensity to shoot himself in the foot has become a national problem which needs urgent containment."

Little over a year later, he had transformed himself into Mr Mugabe's chief spokesman, taking great delight in pouring vitriolic personal abuse on the opposition as "plagiarists, sell-outs, shameless opportunists and merchants of confusion".

Attacks such as these, coupled with the extra intellectual rigour he brought to the government meant he became "the most hated man in Zimbabwe" in opposition circles.

Dependent

But Mr Mugabe, who also does a nice line in personal abuse, took a shine to his chief spin doctor and he became one of the closest presidential advisers and was even mentioned as a possible future president.

He maybe wasn't quick enough to stamp out such speculation and he has definitely now fallen from grace.

Zimbabwean man reading a newspaper
Zimbabwe's state media are tightly controlled
He has always been a close ally of Parliamentary Speaker Emmerson Mnangagwa, who had been seen as Mr Mugabe's heir apparent.

But in a reshuffle of the ruling Zanu-PF party hierarchy last December, he and his allies such as Mr Moyo, lost out.

As a newcomer to Zanu-PF, Mr Moyo was always dependent on Mr Mugabe for his seat in parliament, the cabinet and the party's top body, the politburo.

He had hoped to be elected as an MP but the seat he had targeted was reserved for women, leaving him little time to seek an alternative powerbase.

'African nationalist'

Mr Moyo's legacy is undoubtedly one of media repression.

  • Foreign correspondents were expelled;
  • The only daily paper which criticised Mr Mugabe was shut down;
  • Any journalists who work without a state licence now face the threat of two years in prison.

As information minister, he has kept journalists at the state media on a tight leash - ensuring that every article or transmission toes the party line.

However, his 18-track CD advocating patriotism and land reform is unlikely to get much of a mention in Zimbabwe's musical history.

Mr Moyo has always denied doing a U-turn, saying he had consistently advocated African nationalism and had criticised Mr Mugabe when he had followed liberal economic policies backed by donors.

But most Zimbabweans could never fathom his abrupt change of tack.

Some suggested he was an opposition mole, sent to bring down the Zanu-PF house from the inside.

If so, he now seems to be doing a good job. He is at the centre of what observers say is the most serious split in Zimbabwe's ruling party for 30 years.

Whistle-blower?

His court case against Lands Minister and Zanu-PF Chairman John Nkomo and party politburo member Dumiso Dabengwa shows that Mr Moyo has no intention of going quietly.

He has also washed the party's dirty linen in public, making bitter public complaints about the decision to exclude him from the race to be MP for his home town Tsholotsho, in western Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe
Moyo once said President Mugabe had a propensity to shoot himself in the foot

Mr Nkomo has described Mr Moyo's lawsuit as "the last kicks of a dying horse".

So what next for Mr Moyo?

Without the backing of a party machinery, he is unlikely to be elected. If he is, he would carry little weight as a lone voice in parliament, reviled by both major parties.

Assuming his political career is at an end, it is difficult to see how he can return to a quiet life lecturing in political studies.

I remember speaking to him just after he had been appointed to cabinet and coming away with the impression that he may have decided to enter the political arena as something of a research project.

After years writing about politics from the safe distance of academia, the only way of finding out how the levers of power really worked might be from the inside.

A book revealing the inner workings of Mr Mugabe's government would be an extremely interesting read, albeit written at great personal risk to the author.

Joseph Winter was the BBC's Zimbabwe correspondent for four years, until Jonathan Moyo ordered his deportation in 2001.


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