AS the crisis triggered by the mediagate scandal at the Zimbabwe Mirror Newspapers Group deepens, the publishing concern’s CEO and editor-in-chief Ibbo Mandaza has fired the company’s board o
f directors in a bid to retain control of the company.
Sources said Mandaza has dismissed nearly all directors, save for three loyalists, creating an explosive situation at the beleaguered media house.
Mandaza two weeks ago dismissed his deputy, Alexander Kanengoni, after he failed to appear for a disciplinary hearing.
Kanengoni had been suspended for alleged acts of insubordination and misconduct. Sources said Mandaza was scrambling to gag this paper on mediagate by trying to rope in the Media and Information Commission to act as a “censorship board”.
The Zimbabwe Independent has reported that the Mirror titles, the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror, and the Financial Gazette have been taken over by the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) using public funds.
This was part of a covert propaganda blitz by the state security agency which also runs news websites and is eyeing other publictions as well.
Sources said the CIO also had a presence in other communication agencies, including newsrooms of the state-controlled media. It has been learnt that a major production house could be operating under the direction of the CIO.
Sources said Mandaza dismissed most members of the Mirror board led by Jonathan Kadzura. Among those fired are the directors who represented CIO interests at the Mirror, Thomas James Meke, Charm Ndaba Mukuwane, John Marangwanda, and Kanengoni.
Meke is the immediate past CIO administration and finance director and Mukuwane, now managing director and majority shareholder of Creative Solutions (Pvt) Ltd, is one of his predecessors.
Marangwanda – affectionately known by his CIO colleagues as “Jofo” – was head of the economic desk. He was once posted to Botswana as a liaison officer before he returned home and later retired. Sources said he was key in brokering the CIO newspaper deal through a shelf company called Unique Investments (Pvt) Ltd.
Only Mandaza, Ambassador Buzwani Mothobi, now acting chair, Joyce Kazembe and Amy Tsanga, remain on the Mirror board. Tsanga replaced Tendai Mangezi who resigned. Musi Khumalo also resigned.
Kadzura declined to comment, saying he would issue a “comprehensive statement” on the matter.
“I will issue a comprehensive statement on the issue in due course. I will advise you on when the statement will be issued. I will invite you when I do that,” he said.
Asked for an exclusive interview on the unfolding CIO media ownership saga at the Mirror group, Kadzura said: “I will talk to you when I issue the statement.”
Sources said the dismissal of the Mirror board would worsen the situation.
The sources said the CIO was giving Mandaza a long rope to hang himself by allowing him to act against their interests as major shareholders.
It was said Mandaza had mustered enough courage to confront the CIO head-on after he secured the backing of members of the dominant faction of the ruling Zanu PF led by retired army commander, Solomon Mujuru.
Sources said Mandaza ensured the Mirror titles backed Vice-President Joice Mujuru in the run-up to the Zanu PF congress last December in her bid to secure her current position.
Although the Independent was the first to break the story of the Mujuru vice-presidency bid last year, the Mirror papers gave extensive coverage to the story.
Mandaza was said to have approached a local bank looking for money to retain control of the papers and ensure a massive mediagate cover-up but sources said this came too late. The CIO was said to be angered by this.
Sources said the CIO was carefully watching the events as they unfold while it plans how to regain control of the papers. It was said to be tightening the noose around Mandaza through an audit of the finances of the Mirror. There were allegations of abuse of funds at the group. The Mirror reportedly obtained $38 billion from the central bank’s productive sector facility although some of the money came from the CIO who at one time paid 83% of the papers’ operating expenses.
The Mirror papers have a weak economic base, poor advertising and low circulation. It was said they were surviving through the backing of their major shareholder “who has deep pockets and staying power”.
Sources said a forensic audit report by Ernst & Young was out. It was handed over to Kadzura, as board chair. It is understood on Wednesday Mandaza convened what he termed a board meeting although minus the representatives of the major shareholder.
Sources said only Mothobi, Tsanga and Mandaza himself attended the meeting. It was said Mandaza tried to have the audit report handed over to Mothobi but Ernst & Young flatly refused, saying they would only hand it over to the principal who commissioned the audit.
Sources said the audit has “interesting details” on the Mirror’s finances. The CIO was due to convene a meeting to deal with the crisis. This has set the stage for an explosive showdown at the Mirror.