HomePoliticsMediagate: from the horse's mouth

Mediagate: from the horse’s mouth

THE following is an exclusive interview by VOA’s Blessing Zulu (BZ) with suspended Mirror Group editor-in-chief and chief executive Ibbo Mandaza (IM).

, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>BZ: DR Mandaza, a statement from Mirror Group chairman Jonathan Kadzura and vice-chairman Jonathan Marangwanda says you have been suspended from the positions of editor-in-chief and chief executive of the Zimbabwe Mirror Group of newspapers. The statement also says this follows a forensic report by Ernst & Young auditors. What is your take on this?

IM: It is a misunderstanding of the law by those concerned because I am not only the CEO and editor-in-chief, but I am also a shareholder of the company. The process where you fire your director and let alone a shareholder is obviously very complicated and not feasible. The purported suspension is based on by implication a so-called forensic audit implying there must have been something untoward which I did as CEO and editor-in-chief.

The truth of the matter is that we have a copy of the so-called forensic audit which they are conveniently and expeditiously using and we have a letter from the auditors stating two things – one that the so-called forensic report is not finalised and therefore could not have been the basis of any decision such as purported to have been taken yesterday (Monday). Secondly, they made it very clear that there was no misappropriation of funds as they implied and it was for that reason that they wrote the letter, which they made available to us today.

Thirdly and sadly this is yet another attempted state takeover of a private media house. If they want they can do it physically but they cannot do it legally. I have applied to the High Court to render all that has been done null and void. I have invested heavily in this company since 1997.

BZ: But Dr Mandaza, who really is behind this “covert” operation to oust you and why?

IM: It’s the CIO, as has been reported in the press, who might appear to have become unhappy with either the aspects of our editorial or my person or both.

BZ: So Dr Mandaza those reports in the Zimbabwe Independent were accurate that the CIO wanted to take over the two publications?

IM: Yes, Unique (a local company) board member for example… Purported board members are all former CIO operatives, and it is clear that they report to CIO who are the principals… the Minister of State Security and director-general of the CIO.

BZ: But how did these controversial investors come to invest in your paper?

IM: Well it was a purported investment done through our bank, CBZ. It appeared by any accounts a normal transaction by business people one of whom I knew certainly as a business person was the head of it all, a banker.

It was only when we saw the persons representing the companies and their backgrounds and in particular their failure or inability to provide securities on indemnities as required of any would-be shareholder, that we realised there was a problem somewhere.

Then we realised that they were unable to provide securities and they were part of a state department, which requires an elaborate legal process involving both the Minister of Finance and so on and so forth. Their failure or and inability to provide securities both exposed them for what they were and provided the legal basis to state quite clearly that there was no shareholders agreement. The debt at the bank is secured by me alone.

BZ: Dr Mandaza, did you try to seek (an) audience with the Minister of State Security?

IM: Yes, the first meeting was in October last year.er. 25th of October where I made it known that it is increasingly evident those purported to be Unique is in fact CIO, state department and that this was inappropriate for us to enter into any arrangement and since there was no shareholders agreement and since they failed even to fulfill the shareholders agreement on intent under which they were supposed to provide securities and indemnities that we should just close the chapter and leave us alone.

They promised to look at this when Minister Goche was still in charge. But they persisted and for most of this year, we thought well this attempt has gone into abeyance of them getting involved. But soon after the Tibaijuka Report in which our newspapers were critical although not offensive, in which clearly the report writers may have used many of our cuttings including extracts from my column, Scrutator, this led to allegations that I had even authored the Tibaijuka Report when in fact I did not even meet the lady concerned. If I expressed any views on the matter it was in the newspaper writings and which views were well-known. It was then after July that there were attempts to engage us.

BZ: So you met Minister Didymus Mutasa himself?

IM: I met with Mutasa in late July and pleaded with him again to leave us alone and the thing got very untidy. There were open hostilities. We had CIO functionaries actually stopping stories going into the newspaper for a period of one week. I met him again on the 19th of September where we pleaded again with minister Mutasa … please please, for the sake of the paper, for the sake of the reputation of the paper, it was inappropriate for the CIOs to be involved with us.

Mutasa said he did not care about that, saying he found it odd that since I came through the state and party, I should think so. I told him that the CIO could start their own paper if they so wished. But they insisted that they wanted the Mirror because it was nationalist and pan-Africanist. They said if you cannot be associated with us pack your bags and go.

At that stage, I said let’s value the company, draw an agreement of sale, but they said instructions were coming from the highest level in government and I was no longer welcome.

I said let’s sell 30% of the shares to a consortium of other people, they (CIO) buy 70% and I stay with the paper for three months during the transition and if there was a change of mind on the part of the authorities on the imprudence of CIO involvement in the newspapers, I would continue with my paper, since now I have acquired a printing press and would have the means to run the paper more viably.

We thought we had agreed on that. We met last Thursday and there was now a change of mind that now I must go. So what is happening now is sadly a state takeover of a privately-owned media house.

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