Media professionals in Zimbabwe have been left shocked by Robert Mugabe’s decision to reappoint Jonathan Moyo as the country’s Information Minister, with fears of a return to the media clampdown he once presided over.
Moyo, who was the Information Minister from 2000 to 2005, is often described as a media ‘hangman’ after designing and implementing repressive legislation in 2001, which resulted in a serious clampdown on media freedom. The laws, which have never been repealed, saw the arrest of many foreign journalists, the closure of independent media groups and the hounding of non-state media professionals, many of whom fled into exile.
Moyo is also renowned as a political flip-flopper, and notoriously swung from a staunch Mugabe supporter to one of his main critics, and back again. In recent years, he has been noticeably working his way back into Mugabe’s favour, regularly attacking ZANU PF opponents in state media articles while defending the party’s policies.
This attempt at gaining favour did not work with the electorate, and in the July 31st elections Moyo lost his bid to win the Tsholotsho North Constituency. But Moyo has now come back into Mugabe’s favour, and the President has made him a non-constituent Minister and reappointed him to the Information Ministry.
Journalist and author Geoff Hill said Moyo’s return is a “sad day” for Zimbabwean media, but he also expressed a lack of surprise at Mugabe choice.
“From where Mugabe is sitting, Jonathan Moyo is a brilliant Information Minister. He did what Mugabe wanted him to do: he terrorized journalists, he clamped down on the free press. So I think he’s a very good information minister for a dictatorial state,” Hill told SW Radio Africa.
He added: “This is his chance to ingratiate himself with Mugabe and the hardliners. This is a Cabinet of hardliners so I would have thought that Moyo would do his damndest to please his bosses and his bosses don’t like the press.”
Hill also warned that there might be a reversal of the few media reforms that happened during the unity government, which saw the licencing of independent newspapers and a commitment in the new constitution to protect media freedom.
“I imagine we are going to see ZANU PF winding back on the reforms that were made or not honouring the spirit of those reforms,” Hill said.
One of the so-called ‘reforms’ included the controversial licensing of two ‘independent’ radio stations, which both have strong ZANU PF links. This includes ZiFM, whose founder Supa Mandiwanzira has now been appointed as Moyo’s deputy in the Information Ministry.