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‘Life can turn on a ticky’

What fun we had. Within a year we were the most read and respected newspaper of record in Zimbabwe. Ad revenues were at record level and we were printing 100 page papers each week. We started the Sunday Standard to fill a gap in the market. That’s another story.

SO, its 20 years since the Zimbabwe Independent was founded. Who would believe it. Seems like yesterday.

Clive Murphy

I’m old enough to remember the saying “Life can turn on a ticky.” The Independent is a good example of the adage.

Three years after I sold The Financial Gazette to Elias Rusike I was getting restless and a little bored. I, together with my friend Clive Wilson, had signed a three-year restraint of trade agreement with the new owners. The time limit had recently expired. Clive and I after some, not so subtle, pressure from our friends started to toy with the idea of starting up a brand new weekly newspaper. We both had the experience to do it, but neither of us relished the idea of the work it involved. We had a title in mind and had even discussed a dummy layout. All we needed was a suitable editor. Mark Chavunduka’s name came to mind. Then my home phone rang …

It was Trevor Ncube. His life, Clive’s and mine were about to “turn on a ticky.” Trevor could rightly be described as the catalyst.

For the previous seven years Trevor had been working for the Fingaz and had his reasons for phoning me that day.
Here there is a certain irony. In the Fingaz days, I, together with Wilson, had become disillusioned with running a publishing company in Zimbabwe and Rusike had become disillusioned with working as managing director for the state-owned Zimpapers. That led to the sale of Fingaz to Rusike. On our part, the main reason for wanting to get out of business was the corrupt environment that we had been forced to work in. The introduction of import licences was on the surface of it an attempt to control foreign exchange expenditure. A noble cause. But when it became clear that issuance of the permits was tightly held by the new elite problems arose! Remember prohibitions?

Businessmen such as myself were forced to commit illegal acts simply to keep the wheels turning and people employed. Not even for profit. When we needed foreign material we had to pay the new elite generally 100% of the face value of an import permit and then often another 100% of the value to secure the necessary currency to buy the goods! Once the goods had been imported the wheels could turn again and we could continue to keep our employees at work. In addition, there was always the danger of a knock on the door by the CIO!

Anyway, back to Ncube’s call. We agreed to meet. Wilson and I were decided to start another paper. Why? I guess once printers ink flows in you veins there is nothing much you can do about it. We met at the Harare Club boardroom and hammered our the template of our relationship. Wilson and I agreed that we could work with Ncube. He was then appointed editor.

After that things started to happen and the Independent was born. I still can’t believe that it was 20 years ago.

What fun we had. Within a year we were the most read and respected newspaper of record in Zimbabwe. Ad revenues were at record levels and we were printing a 100- page paper each week. In 1997 we started The Sunday Standard to fill a gap in the market with Chavunduka as the editor. That’s another story.

Eventually Ncube acquired control of the group, he has done a splendid job of maintaining the paper. He is to be congratulated. Really! 20 years? As an aside, my friend Wilson now lives in Wales, sadly he is unwell, but I am sure that he joins me in wishing the Independent many more years of viability and influence.

Murphy is one of the Independent’s main founding shareholders.

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