In this final article the editor of the M&G Zimbabwe edition, Teldah Mawarire, responds to issues raised by Impi chairperson Geoff Nyarota in his article titled “Shedding light on alleged Impi conflicts” carried in our July 4 issue. The Zimbabwe Independent will not publish any more correspondence on the matter.
Last week the Zimbabwe Independent carried an article by Geoff Nyarota in his capacity as chairperson of the Information and Media Panel of Inquiry (Impi) which purported to clarify and even correct “a number of false allegations” allegedly made against him in the story carried simultaneously by the Mail & Guardian and the Zimbabwe Independent on June 27.
Despite that Nyarota was initially given the opportunity to respond to a number of issues in the story — which was based on irrefutable evidence in the form of emails between Impi members and separate interviews with some of those involved — before its publication, he complained about the article which was based on confirmed email exchanges between him and other Impi panel members showing disagreements and conflicts over a range of issues.
Given Nyarota’s unhelpful response or right of reply, which actually contained more heat than light, it’s important for me to clarify issues and set the record straight.
To begin with, we stand by the story simply because it’s true as it was based on incontrovertible evidence and interviews with relevant parties, including Nyarota himself who was interviewed by Zimbabwe Independent reporter Owen Gagare.
In his article Nyarota complains that the M&G and Zimbabwe Independent should have interviewed Impi panellists that he had directed Gagare to.
In the process however, he ignores vast swathes of emails quoted in the story showing serious conflicts between him and other Impi members.
In must be noted that the M&G which originated the story gave three Impi panel members whose emails were published in the story concerned — namely Daily News Editor Stanley Gama, Zimbabwe Union of Journalists secretary-general Foster Dongozi and Nyarota himself as chairperson — an opportunity to respond.
Musician Fungisai Zvakavapano-Mashavave, whose email exchanges with Nyarota were not quoted but were mentioned in the story showing some conflict between them was unavailable for comment.
It must also be taken into account that it was not possible to talk to all 26 panel members but due care was taken to consult all those whose emails were quoted in the story.
Even though we have heard that Susan Makore, for instance, once clashed with Nyarota and stormed out of the meeting at Impi offices, we did not call her about that because it was not part of the emails we had.
We applied the same logic to the cases of Zimbabwe Independent editor Dumisani Muleya and artist PlaxedesWenyika whom we also understand have had robust debates with Nyarota on Impi issues.
In his fault-finding mission in which solid evidence of clashes at Impi is conveniently ignored while peripheral issues are raised to obfuscate the story, Nyarota also claims that Impi panel member Gift Mambipiri sent a statement to the M&G and that email was ignored. This is patently false.
No such statement was received from Mambipiri. It is therefore disingenuous for Nyarota to write that the M&G completely ignored Mambipiri when in fact we have never heard from him.
In the M&G story, Nyarota was asked about the Impi printing contract that he had been taken to task over by Gama in the leaked emails.
Nyarota was given a full interview on this and other matters. In the article, Nyarota clarified his position that he had nothing to do with the contract and that it was awarded by the Ministry of Information to Collin Chiwanza who happens to be a nephew of his friend.
However, Nyarota only further clarifies the issue in his article in the Zimbabwe Independent last week, giving information he did not reveal to us concerning the bidding process for the printing tender, something he should have done in full before the story was published. If there was full disclosure on his part, there would have been no gaps in his replies to questions.
Nyarota also says in his article that he had discussed the Impi printing contract with Gama before the M&G printed its story and Gama had apologised to him in private. Again why Nyarota decided to conceal from us this information and only reveal it after the story was published is a mystery.
The M&G would have taken it upon itself to find out from Gama whether indeed Nyarota is telling the truth that he actually apologised to him over this issue.
Nyarota further complained about the headline of the story in question which was “Internal conflicts scar Impi”, claiming it was misleading.
This is most surprising given that the emails quoted speak for themselves. That the emails are genuine is not in question, which is why Nyarota cannot challenge their authenticity and detail clearly proving clashes within Impi. The emails certainly point to widespread conflicts over various issues within Impi.
Nyarota also wrote that it was embarrassing that the story was printed in the absence of Zimbabwe Independent editor Dumisani Muleya who coincidentally is an Impi panellist, as is Vincent Kahiya, editor-in-chief of Alpha Media Holdings which publishes the Independent.
The astonishing inference here, which is scandalous coming from an experienced journalist and former editor, is that Muleya and Kahiya should block stories concerning Impi because they are panellists.
That Muleya and Kahiya are Impi panel members does not mean their papers must not cover Impi whose mission surely does not include promoting editorial restrictions or censorship at the expense of media freedom. Impi’s own terms of reference show it is not about that.
Nyarota also says in his article, the M&G reported that panellists can earn up to US$900 a day. This is simply not true. We hope it was a mistake on his part, not malice. In fact, what he was referring to was implied in another article that appeared in the M&G on June 20.
The M&G conceded the error in an email response to Nyarota on June 25. An apology was made by the editor in the M&G on June 27 on page 2 and that figure was corrected in all subsequent stories.
The corrected position is that panel members receive US$300 per working day. Ignoring that vital correction after it was printed by the M&G is dishonest.
In other words, to say the M&G editors ignored the complaint when an explanation and apology was sent concerning the article and an apology printed in black and white is not only incorrect but also deceitful.
Nyarota further protests that there is an impression in the M&G that the Minister of Information Jonathan Moyo is paying panel members handsomely to promote political agendas.
Well, that is not what the M&G said, but the point is it cannot be denied that Impi has now been caught in political battles, particularly involving Zanu-PF.
As reported in the media, Impi was the subject of a Zanu PF politburo meeting on June 4. Politics is also the reason why some Impi panellists, including Nyarota himself, fled in terror from Uzumba Maramba Pfungwe two weeks ago after their meeting was disrupted, apparently by Zanu-PF activists, or such other people threatening violence.
Only last week Zanu PF MP Joseph Chinotimba also raised questions around Impi in parliament. That was before Moyo had to answer questions in parliament last week about Impi, saying Treasury is bankrolling it to the tune of US$1,6 million.
So it’s clear from this and many other developments that Impi has become a political issue, probably unfairly, whether Nyarota likes it or not.
Against this backdrop, it is important for Nyarota to always remember that Impi – which has good intentions — is funded by taxpayers.
Therefore, it must be held to account to the public. This means journalists must be allowed to do their work freely to shed light on its work without undue hindrance or hostile protests from some of its self-interested members.