Page last updated at 15:00 GMT, Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Profile: Zimbabwe's Tendai Biti

Tendai Biti (Photo courtesy of MDC)
Tendai Biti is one of President Mugabe's most vocal critics
Tendai Biti, a stout, football-loving lawyer fond of wearing a bowler hat, is to be Zimbabwe's next finance minister.

In recent years, as secretary-general of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and chief negotiator of the power-sharing deal with Zanu-PF, he has proven himself an able politician.

But he is not a diplomat. Just days before being named and after a judge suspended his treason trial, he referred to President Robert Mugabe - who is to head the unity government which Mr Biti is to join - as a "dictator".

"He's a very good foil to [MDC leader] Morgan Tsvangirai's reticence; he speaks his mind," says Zimbabwean filmmaker and journalist Farai Sevenzo.

He's got a strong exhibitionist streak in him as evidenced by his insistence on wearing a bowler hat
Filmmaker Farai Sevenzo
This no-nonsense attitude is perhaps something Zimbabwe's economy needs - given the alarming statistics: 90% unemployment and world-record hyperinflation.

At 44, compared to the old Zanu-PF stalwarts, Mr Biti is very much the modern politician.

He was a former union leader at the University of Zimbabwe, when clashes between stone-throwing students and riot police were just about the only public sign of dissatisfaction with Mr Mugabe's rule.

He then went on to become a lawyer with one of Harare's best-known firms, Honey and Blackenberg.

The brash young lawyer was a founder member of the MDC - becoming a member of parliament in 2000 - and represents the plush constituency of Harare East, where he has a large house.

In his election posters last year, he wore his trade-mark bowler hat.

"He's got a strong exhibitionist streak in him as evidenced by his insistence on wearing a bowler hat," says Mr Sevenzo.

"Of course it lends much fodder to his critics, who say he's a tool of the West - still in his colonial hat."


However, Mr Biti has been quick to rebuff such criticism and has lost no energy in pointing out the ills of Mr Mugabe's rule.

He has been involved in starting other civic organisations such as Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the National Constitutional Assembly, which has been campaigning for a new constitution.

He's been a radical and I think we now expect him to become a conservative
MP Jonathan Moyo

Like all MDC activists, he needs to have a strong streak of bravery - he has been arrested and assaulted for his opposition to Mr Mugabe.

When he was released on bail after being charged with treason last year, Mr Biti said that prison reflected "the collapse of the state".

"People are dying there; people have no food; people have no blankets, so it's a depressing place. It wasn't easy, but we have to continue fighting," he said.

His exuberance and dedication is not just for politics.

He is a passionate Arsenal football fan, who watches many games live on TV in Zimbabwe and has also attended matches in London.

According to Mr Sevenzo, the MDC politician is extremely charming, "at home in the bar, in front of a football match or in the High Court".

This adaptability and his resilience may also be key to his success in the finance ministry.

"I have heard there's something about economics and finance that turns a radical into a conservative," says Jonathan Moyo, an independent MP and a former information minister.

"He's been a radical and I think we now expect him to become a conservative."

Mr Moyo warns that the skills of getting a party organised to win an election are different from getting a government to implement an economic turnaround.

"He's lucky - it's in the context of an inclusive government - so there will be less bickering and more support for him, if he puts his attention to the task at hand," says Mr Moyo.

Seen by many as the real brains behind the MDC, however, Mr Biti is likely to be a dangerous opponent for anyone getting in his way.

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