THE take-over of private newspapers and running of online publications by the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) was an essential part of the state security agency’s strategy to influenc
e political events and Zanu PF’s succession struggle, it has emerged.
The covert media ownership operation was designed to manage public opinion as social and economic conditions deteriorated dramatically after the government’s chaotic land seizures and a violent parliamentary election in 2000. Sources said it was calculated to secure good media publicity and to repair government’s battered image following land grabs and violent elections.
Intelligence sources said the CIO was shaken by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change’s performance in the 2000 general election and decided to find ways to win back hearts and minds. The CIO was also anxious to influence the Zanu PF succession struggle.
As a result a project was hatched to buy into private newspapers and also to eliminate those which could not be bought. Sources said the strategy was copied from Angola where the largest circulating daily is owned by the state security service.
The intelligence agency has wrested control of Zimbabwe Mirror Newspapers Group, publishers of the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror, and the Financial Gazette through a front ownership structure.
The CIO also reportedly runs or influences other media outlets including news websites, a production house, and the government-owned media.
Sources said the CIO – under former State Security minister Nicholas Goche – decided in 2001 to buy into private papers due to political events in the country seen as posing a serious threat to President Mugabe’s regime. The public media was already in the hands of Information minister Jonathan Moyo.
The sources said Goche and the CIO reckoned there was no way the Zanu PF faction led by retired army commander Solomon Mujuru could use the state media to influence events in the ruling party when Moyo was in charge.
“The takeover of private newspapers was a CIO strategy to influence public opinion, and hopefully events in the country, and also manage the dynamics of Mugabe’s succession,” a source said.
“Goche realised it was not possible for his (the Mujuru) faction to work with Moyo and decided to bypass him in arranging newspaper takeovers.”
The plan largely worked because the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror were deployed to back Vice-President Joice Mujuru in the run-up to the Zanu PF congress in December last year. They were unleashed against her rival, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Sources said this explains why the CIO media project has caused divisions in Zanu PF, cabinet and government departments because it was designed to serve factional interests.
Reports say the CIO was behind the closure of the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe titles — Daily News and Daily News on Sunday – as well as the Tribune and Weekly Times. They are also interested in Zanu PF’s weekly mouthpiece.
The seizure of Zimbabwe Independent and the Standard chairman Trevor Ncube’s passport last week is said to be part of the broad strategy to undermine his media house. Sources said the CIO wanted to force Ncube to leave the country illegally to attend to his South African business interests.
This would give them an opportunity to declare him a “fugitive” and then specify him, laying the ground for the take-over of his papers.
Ncube’s passport was seized by a CIO officer under instructions from Registrar-General Tobaiwa Mudede and chief immigration officer Elasto Mugwadi. Mudede and Mugwadi work closely with the CIO under the Joint Operations Command which brings security service chiefs together every Friday to discuss security issues.
Sources say the CIO has been trying to deal with the Independent and Standard to finish off the mainstream private press in the country. The media strategy is part of the CIO’s broad plan codenamed Project October.
The plan entails tackling opposition parties and civic groups and influencing events in Zanu PF and outside using the media. Journalists and civic society leaders have been recruited to work as part of the scheme.
Sources said the CIO newspaper takeovers (Mediagate) – first reported by the Independent on August 12 – were devised to allow state agents to occupy a vast swathe of opinion space and manipulate the Zanu PF succession debate.
Insiders say Zanu PF is surviving on the political quicksands due to support by state security forces who are increasingly enmeshed in partisan politics.
Remarks on Monday by Major-General Martin Chedondo at an army pass-out parade in Gweru that soldiers should not support the MDC provide further evidence of this.
The most brazen case was on the eve of the 2002 presidential election when former Defence Forces commander General Vitalis Zvinavashe warned the army would not accept a winner without liberation war credentials.
The militarisation of the state bureaucracy and other government institutions has also given the army a strong hand in politics, while making security agencies the building blocks to power. The CIO media take-overs complete the grand plan.