Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Moyo Versus Mugabe

Why did information minister Jonathan Moyo get himself sacked and take on his old boss?
By Bernard Takawira

Professor Jonathan Moyo, as President Robert Mugabe's aggressive and energetic information minister, shaped the raft of oppressive laws and policies which enabled Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU PF party to subdue and then crush the growing opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC.


The workaholic Moyo was labelled by critics as "Mugabe's Goebbels", a reference to Adolf Hitler's infamous propaganda chief, and likened his hate messages directed at political opponents and independently-minded journalists to incitement by Hutu militants ahead of the Rwandan genocide of 1994.


In Machiavellian style, Moyo manoeuvred the expulsion of foreign correspondents and the intimidation, imprisonment and torture of independent-minded judges and reporters.


Mugabe liked Moyo, by far the most hard working minister in a largely inept cabinet. Moyo was one of his most trusted and powerful lieutenants, an eloquent and rabid defender of his policies.


In short, Mugabe considered Moyo indispensable following the shock he received when, in 2000, Zimbabwe's electorate rejected in a referendum a proposed constitution that would have greatly increased his power, and then nearly toppled his government in a parliamentary election.


But on the weekend of March 5-6, in an extraordinary and unexpected turnaround, Moyo is launching his parliamentary election campaign as an opponent of Mugabe.


In the biggest split in ZANU PF since it came to power at independence in 1980, Mugabe has vowed to destroy his favourite son, whom he has now dubbed "enemy number one".


The former minister, in turn, has warned his erstwhile mentor that it was he, Moyo, who had saved ZANU PF from collapse back in 2000. He said he was not interested in staying aboard Mugabe's "gravy train" and then, changing metaphors, compared ZANU PF to "a sinking ship that's heading for ground after its captain has been left alone by his crew".


The Mugabe-Moyo rift is sprinkling some hot spice on an election campaign whose outcome is otherwise viewed as a foregone conclusion, since it has already been rigged by the ruling ZANU PF government.


The spectacular bust up began last November when Moyo convened a meeting in his home village of Tsholotsho, 120 kilometres northwest of Bulawayo, to form a ZANU PF group opposed to Mugabe's decision to make Joyce Mujuru the first female vice-president of Zimbabwe. The post had become vacant with the death of Mugabe's long-time aide and ally, Simon Muzenda, at the age of 80.


Moyo was shocked at the appointment of Mujuru, who bore the nom de guerre "Spillblood” when she was a guerrilla leader in the Seventies. In the internal struggle within ZANU PF, Moyo had lent his weight to the powerful parliamentary speaker Emmerson Mnangagwa to replace 81-year-old Mugabe when he either dies or retires.


Moyo, who owed his seat in parliament to the president's right to directly appoint 30 of the 150 members, was incensed when he was not made the ZANU PF parliamentary candidate in his Tsholotsho home, and a woman was nominated instead.


In a spectacular public fallout of the kind ZANU PF managed to avoid throughout its first 25 years in power, Moyo declared that he would stand as an independent candidate in Tsholotsho against the sitting MDC member of parliament and the female ZANU PF candidate.


Mugabe responded by sacking Moyo from the cabinet and the 50-member politburo of ZANU PF, the party's top policy-making body.


Moyo lost his grace-and-favour mansion, his official car, driver and bodyguards. He was also stripped of two farms and a game lodge that he was given after white farmers were driven from their land in 2000 – an expropriation campaign that he himself launched by engineering the removal of white judges he alleged were biased in favour of the farmers.


Mugabe recruited Moyo, who had previously worked for the Ford Foundation in Nairobi and as a lecturer at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, in late 1999 to spearhead his various parliamentary and presidential election campaigns.


It was Moyo who drafted media legislation, including the notorious Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, AIPPA, which was used to close down newspapers and to arrest and deport scores of journalists. AIPPA remains the major weapon used by Mugabe against any significant press independence.


In 2001, Moyo encouraged hundreds of ZANU PF supporters to parade through the streets of Harare demanding the closure of the Daily News, the country's only independent daily and by the far the country's best-selling newspaper of any kind.


Meanwhile, Moyo himself wrote articles in the government-owned Herald daily accusing the editor of the Daily News of being "unpatriotic". On state TV he warned the editor that the title would be silenced, and within a few hours the printing presses of the Daily News were destroyed by bombs made from military explosives.


The newspaper limped on, but in 2002 it was silenced for ever when Moyo applied one of the clauses of AIPPA.


It is unclear what Moyo hopes to achieve by going independent. He has become a hate figure among the many ZANU PF members who continue to cling to Mugabe. And he is widely reviled by journalists and members of opposition parties.


"Moyo was ruthless, and single-handedly changed a lot of things for ever, though not necessarily for the better," wrote Mavis Makuni, a columnist on the weekly Financial Gazette, one of only two independent newspapers left in Zimbabwe. "He defended his action [resignation] by saying he was doing it on principle. But with a chequered political history like his, we could be forgiven for asking what exactly his principles are.


"Moyo now mutters about there being no democracy in the ruling party and the country. Is this the same Moyo who mercilessly mocked anyone who questioned government policies by labelling them as sell-outs or agents of foreign interests?"


What Moyo has perhaps unwittingly demonstrated is the emerging turmoil inside the apparently monolithic ZANU PF as the struggle to succeed Mugabe intensifies and ideological and tribal differences begin to surface.


"At least Moyo has ensured that this poll will be different from past ones," concluded Makuni. "This time it's not just a question of going through the motions. There will be fireworks in Tsholotsho, thanks to our maverick professor.”


Bernard Takawira is a pseudonym for an IWPR contributor in Zimbabwe.


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