ZMMT board composition challenged

CHARLES LAITON

THE Young Journalists Association of Zimbabwe (Yoja) has taken President Emmerson Mnangagwa to court, challenging the composition and the appointment of the Zimbabwe Mass Media Trust (ZMMT) board on the basis that the Head of State failed to comply with the provisions of the board’s governing deed of trust.

Mnangagwa appointed a six-member ZMMT board sometime in February this year, in consultation with the Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services minister, Monica Mutsvangwa, following a dissolution of the same in December 2000.

The new board is comprised of the previous chairperson of the board, Honour Piniel Mkushi, Zimpapers board chairperson Thomas Amos Ganda Sithole, veteran educationist and author Phathisa Nyathi (pictured), former Midlands State University (MSU) vice chancellor Professor Ngwabi Bhebhe, retired senior Police Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba and Assistant Senior Directing staff at the Zimbabwe National Defence University (ZNDU), Group Captain Patience Gawe.

Yoja chairperson and trustee Mlondolozi Ndlovu, who deposed to an affidavit filed alongside the court application, said his association has taken Mnangagwa to court in terms of section 14 of the High Court Act Chapter 7:6 as read with section 61 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

“The applicants (Yoja and George Makoni) challenge the February 2020 appointment by President Emmerson Mnangagwa of six individuals to the ZMMT board of trustees, on the grounds that those appointments; violate pertinent provisions of the notarial deed of donation and trust (Registration No MA174/81) of April 24, 1981 which regulates the operations of that important trust, and fly in the face of fundamental rights of freedom of expression and freedom of the media and breach the constitutional founding principle of good governance, particularly in the context of the obligation on the President to execute his executive duties in a transparent, just and accountable manner,” Ndlovu said.

In his chronological sequence of events, Ndlovu said on April 24 1981, a notarial deed of donation and trust was registered by the Registrar of Deeds under the name “The Zimbabwe Mass Media Trust” (ZMMT) and that Just before the registration of the trust, the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria had donated US$5 million to the trust on condition that the money would be used for purposes of removing the control by South African interest in specific media establishments, specifically including the Inter-Africa News Agency (Pvt) Ltd and the Zimbabwe Newspapers (1980) Ltd (Zimpapers).

Ndlovu further said one of the primary purposes of that investment, and the formation of the ZMMT was the “furtherance of the media welfare of the people of Zimbabwe”, which would entail the elimination of the partisan management of those media organisations, and limitation of excessive governmental interference with administrative and editorial affairs of the pertinent media organisations.

However, Ndlovu said when Mnangagwa made his appointments he did not take the necessary steps to advance the purposes, objectives and administration of the trust more so taking into consideration that he included members of the uniformed forces and Zimpapers board chair.

“Those appointments are problematic and therefore subject to legal challenge for the following reasons; while the third respondent (Honour Mkushi) and other members of the previous board purported to dissolve the mass media trust in 2000, no legal steps were taken for the registration of a fresh trust,” he said.

“If the latest board appointments which are outlined in annexure ‘C’ were effected in terms of the 1981 deed of trust, the clause 1 (d) of the original deed of trust was breached because Charity Charamba was, at the material time, a member of the uniformed forces of the government of Zimbabwe, in that she was in the commissioner’s pool of Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP),” Ndlovu said, adding Patience Gawe was also a member of the uniformed forces by virtue of her position in the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF), being an assistant senior directing staff at the Zimbabwe National Defence University (ZNDU) and specifically a group captain in the Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ).

Ndlovu further said Sithole’s appointment creates a significant conflict of interest that violates constitutional principles of transparency and good
governance, in that he is both Zimpapers chairperson, a mass media house in which the ZMMT is a major shareholder and also a trustee at the ZMMT board.

“In respect of Thomas Sithole, the conflict created by his dual membership to the board of Zimpapers and of the MMT defeats the whole purpose that was behind the formation of the MMT back in 1981, that is, to act as a buffer between government and media companies with State shareholding. As chairman of a media company (Zimpapers) wherein the Zimbabwe Mass Media Trust is a major shareholder, and where government has significant control, Sithole’s participation at the ZMMT board would be out of sync with the Section 61 provisions of the Constitution of Zimbabwe regarding media freedom,” he said.

Commenting on Mkushi, Ndlovu said as a former board member under whose leadership the trust was previously disbanded, his appointment does not augur well for the renewal of the ZMMT, and the advancement of the objectives of the MMT.
Yoja is represented by Chris Mhike of Atherstone and Cook in the matter, which is pending.

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