A series of heated email exchanges has exposed rumblings of discontent among media panel members.
Teldah Mawarire/Owen Gagare
Zimbabwe’s Information and Media Panel of Inquiry (Impi) has become a theatre of war as its chairperson, veteran journalist and former MDC-T member Geoffrey Nyarota, clashes with colleagues amid personal vendettas and a political storm rocking the project.
Impi, conceived last year by Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister Jonathan Moyo, was launched in April to “inquire into, assess and determine the policy, legal, technological, business, human resource and institutional adequacy and readiness in the information sector”.
It is made up of editors from the public and private media, marketing and advertising representatives, information and communications technology experts, civil society members and other professionals.
The panel has been travelling the country, collecting information on media issues by holding public hearings.
The Mail & Guardian can exclusively reveal that Nyarota has clashed repeatedly with Impipanellists, while senior politicians in the government and those aligned to the Zanu-PF faction led by Vice-President Joice Mujuru are trying to derail the project, which they believe boosts Moyo’s political profile and advances the agenda of the rival camp led by Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.
While there have been countless disagreements between Nyarota and other Impi panellists, some of the most recent featured the likes of Daily News editor Stanley Gama, popular gospel musician Fungisai Zvakavapano-Mashavave and Zimbabwe Union of Journalists secretary general Foster Dongozi.
Gama started firing broadsides against Nyarota on May 20 over the issue of panellists receiving a US$300 allowance per field working day without necessarily doing any work.
Nyarota had insinuated at an Impi meeting the previous day, held at the Zimbabwe Film and Television School of Southern Africa in Harare, that there were people getting paid without working: they would arrive to sign the register and then disappear, only resurfacing to collect their payments.
Suspecting that Nyarota was referring to him, Gama launched a fierce email attack against his predecessor at the Daily News.
“I failed to attend this morning’s meeting at the Impi offices because of other pressing commitments. I hear you made preposterous allegations that there are some among the panellists who only sign registration forms and disappear, only to come back for payment.
“This was clearly directed at me because yesterday I attended the Chitungwiza outreach in the morning but failed to travel to Highfield. This is because I had a very important business meeting to attend to, whose impact far outlives the Impi project,” Gama wrote.
“Let me make it clear that, for me, it’s not about money but national interest. If I was after money, I would have made sure I attended all the outreach meetings … If you really believe that because I attended morning outreaches for the purposes of getting payment, please instruct the ministry (of information) to stop paying me because I don’t really need this money, having spent my whole life without Impi.”
Gama ended his email by challenging Nyarota to explain who had been given the Impi printing contract. Nyarota disclosed in his reply that the contract was given to the “lowest bidder”, a company whose chief executive is former Daily News reporter Collin Chiwanza, a nephew of Rusape-based lawyer Max Chiwanza, who is reportedly a friend of Nyarota’s.
The following day, May 21, Nyarota hit back at Gama.
“It appears you were misled by another panellist to believe that during proceedings at Tuesday’s meeting I made preposterous allegations against you in particular … You then decided to launch a vicious attack on me without seeking clarification or at least consulting me, as you did not attend the meeting,” he wrote.
“It is true that I made reference to panellists who are registering for the day and leaving in the circumstances described without officially informing me. This means that they then get paid a full US$300 for work that they have not rendered to Impi … My knowledge of [the] present-day Zimbabwe economic situation is that every salaried employee is in desperate need of money, whatever their claims to the contrary.”
Nyarota escalated the fight in his email, saying: “Gama, it is common knowledge, even at the ministry, that you have been spoiling for a fight with me from the word go. I have ignored your taunts because I have no particular wish to engage you in combat … You are obviously trying to build a case against me out of pure malice.”
As a parting shot, Nyarota said to Gama: “If your intention is to seek to soil my name you will certainly have to try much harder, Gama.”
Asked for comment on the email exchanges with Gama, Nyarota said: “This is gross misunderstanding of the relevant email communication. As stated in one of my emails to Mr Gama, I was not referring to him when this statement was made in an open meeting at Impi. I was referring to somebody else, not Mr Gama. Gama, for reasons best known to himself thought I was referring to him, when I clearly was not.”
On the printing tender, Nyarota said Collin Chiwanza won the contract from the Ministry of Information out of three companies that submitted quotations.
“How they assessed the quotations is something unknown to the chairman of Impi. The fact that Collin is a relative of a friend of the chairperson of Impi is information not known to the ministry until they read it in the Mail & Guardian,” Nyarota said.
Gama refused to be drawn by the M&G into discussing the emails, saying he does not comment on anything to do with Impi. On May 31, Nyarota also clashed with Dongozi and another panellist, Gift Mambipiri, over “conditions of service” after Dongozi accused him of a “lack of spine” over the issue of allowances and other contractual obligations.
Dongozi and Mambipiri were to further fight with Nyarota on June 9 after they overnighted in Gweru against the Impi chair’s will, after attending an outreach programme in Mberengwa. Dongozi, who demanded a refund to cover his Gweru hotel accommodation, accused Nyarota of trying to gamble with Mambipiri’s and his own life by pressurising them to travel during the night like Oliver Gawe, an Impi information officer.
“I find it odd that it was felt necessary to try and sacrifice the lives of unpaid and overworked panellists, all in a bid to please ministry officials. This made me ask: is there a reward if we save a few dollars from this project, even if it comes on the back of injured or dead panellists?” Dongozi wrote.
In his response, Nyarota accused Dongozi of writing “absurd nonsense” while insinuating that he would not be reimbursed because of his hostility.
Dongozi fought back, saying “the level of pettiness in you is astounding”. He then told Nyarota to stop his “childish antics” and behaving like “a spoilt brat”, saying one does not need to be an expert in English to have good leadership and management skills.
Former NewsDay editor Brian Mangwende intervened in the emails issue, urging the warring parties to stop “abusing” the Impi platform to settle personal scores.
Asked by the M&G about the emails, Dongozi said he has no comment but pointed out any differences he may have had with Nyarota were “robust discussions that would happen in any working environment”. He said Nyarota as the chairperson of Impi was the best person to comment on Impi business.
On the emails with Dongozi, Nyarota told the M&G that Dongozi went to the Midlands on an Impi assignment .
“On arrival in Gweru, he assesses the situation, perhaps correctly that for himself it’s too late to travel to Harare. He asks the driver to proceed to Harare while he books into into a hotel in Gweru without asking the chairman.
“The following morning, he hires a vehicle to take him to Harare, then he comes to see me. He says he would like to claim for reimbursement for the hotel bill and reimbursement for hiring a vehicle from Gweru to Harare. Because I am an understanding person, I say fair enough, before I reimburse you please produce the hotel receipt and car hire receipt.
He says fine and goes away. While I’m waiting for the receipts, I receive an email containing words of abuse, so naturally I take umbrage, and I say I’m surprised that you are attacking me instead of producing receipts.
“I tell him that anyone who wants to attack me should do so in proper English or Shona. If this is wrong, I tender my sincere apologies to Dongozi.”
Nyarota has also clashed with other Impi members such as AB Communications chief executive Susan Makore, musician Plaxedes Wenyika and Zimbabwe Independent editor Dumisani Muleya.
As for the clash with Wenyika and Muleya, Nyarota told the M&G that he did not remember this and he considers Makore and Muleya as “pillars of Impi”.
Another ugly email fight broke out on June 18 between Nyarota and Zvakavapano-Mashavave over the idea of taking members of the Impi drafting committee to Troutbeck Inn in Nyanga from July 13 to 20.
Zvakavapano-Mashavave complained such expenditure would be wasteful, while Nyarota claimed it was the Information ministry’s decision, an explanation the former rejected, saying it was agreed from the beginning Impi would handle and run its own affairs without political interference.
Nyarota told the M&G that it’s true that Zvakavapano-Mashavave wrote to him complaining about the retreat to Nyanga for the drafting committee.
“The Impi report, in our assessment and the assessment of officials at the ministry would be best done in a quiet environment away from Harare. Nyanga was just a proposal.
She put this in writing and at the end she apologised that her communication was rude, and it was rude. I told her the communication was rude.” — M&G