Page last updated at 11:28 GMT, Tuesday, 26 August 2008 12:28 UK

Zimbabwe's speaker makes history

Lovemore Moyo

By Brian Hungwe

The speaker's seat in Zimbabwe's lower house of parliament is an intimidating chair, overlooked by an artificial leopard mounted on the walls.

It is a symbol of power.

I will call her [my mother-in-law] to order
Lovemore Moyo

The man who has occupied it as parliament opens is volleyball fan Lovemore Moyo, 43, from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Morgan Tsvangirai.

Mr Moyo becomes the first opposition speaker to assume that position since the country attained independence from the United Kingdom in 1980.

It is a development that is forcing President Robert Mugabe to take a hard look in the mirror as the balance of power slowly shifts.

It is creating tremors along the corridors of the lower house of parliament, where the opposition commands more legislative seats than the ruling Zanu-PF party.

'Hate being patronised'

But the election of Mr Moyo as speaker does have its ironies.

The leopard on the walls of parliament
The leopard which looks over proceedings in Zimbabwe's parliament

He won with 110 votes to 98, meaning some Zanu-PF MPs voted for him.

One could have been his mother-in-law, Sithembiso Nyoni, a former minister in President Mugabe's government, who may make it into the new cabinet.

It is not easy to guess if family or party loyalty won the day for her in Monday's vote.

Given their different political backgrounds, Mr Moyo says the two "don't discuss politics at home".

But if she gets out of line in the House of Assembly, Mr Moyo will have no qualms in doing his job.

"I will call her to order," he chuckles.

The new speaker is warm and softly spoken. MDC insiders say it is difficult to read his mind, because he is quiet and aloof.

"Quiet yes, but very tough," he says.

"I don't care who you are, I just hate being patronised."

Passion for politics

His relationship with Mr Mugabe over his five-year term is likely to be turbulent given their wide political gulf.

I was taught by people that were younger than me
Lovemore Moyo

"I'm not in this job to pander to the interests of individuals or political organisations. Even with the head of state, we both have different constitutional obligations."

He says he wants to oversee a parliament where there are lively and real "balanced" debates.

"The polarised parliament of the past should remain in the past. I don't owe anybody anything, I owe Zimbabweans a service."

Mr Moyo hails from Matabeleland, in southern Zimbabwe, and the marginalised region will take comfort in an opposition speaker that will spearhead their interests.

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe. File photo
There will be no love loss between Mr Moyo and Mr Mugabe

There is much resentment among the region's Ndebele people towards Mr Mugabe, which stems from the massacre of an estimated 20,000 people after independence.

His passion for politics was cut early in life, when he and his seven brothers went to join the liberation struggle against white minority rule.

He cut his education short and left for Zambia in 1977, aged just 12, and trained to become a political commissar in Zipra - the military wing of Ndebele nationalist leader Joshua Nkomo's movement.

At independence, he refused to join the army and retired to his rural home in Matabeleland


He describes himself as a cultural and developmental activist and founded the Matabeleland Development Association.

Lovemore Moyo
I went to war, I'm a freedom fighter. My whole Mute village in Matopos was reduced to ashes during the war
Lovemore Moyo
He only finished his secondary education in 1990.

"I was taught by people that were younger than me," he remembers.

Now a father of three, he comes from a large family - his father had three wives and 17 children altogether.

"We are many and proud of that," Mr Moyo says.

His favoured way to relax is to watch a game of volleyball.

He plays socially and has sat on the committees of Zimbabwe's Volleyball Association and his favourite Bulawayo-based Highlanders Volleyball team.

His Matopos constituency is home to the grave of the man who engineered the colonisation of the region, Cecil John Rhodes.

I tease him about the British puppet tag Mr Mugabe continues to put on his party.

"I went to war, I'm a freedom fighter. My whole Mute village in Matopos was reduced to ashes during the liberation war.

"When Rhodesian forces would ask for terrorists, people would point at our village," he says, although he was too young to pick up a weapon in anger.

"Our family has a liberation war tradition and I'm proud of that."

His village, he adds, also has the grave of Mzilikazi - the last king of the Ndebele people.

"Those that call us puppets, have no understanding of our history."

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