A series of heated email exchanges has exposed rumblings of discontent among members of the Information and Media Panel of Inquiry.
Zimbabwe’s Information and Media Panel of Inquiry – which incidentally means “war” in Nguni languages, including the Ndebele dialect widely spoken in the southwest of the country – 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. It has covered rural and urban areas, holding meetings with stakeholders such as ordinary Zimbabweans, consumers of media products, advertisers, the business community and various interest groups.
However, while Impi seemingly appears to be a smooth-running project that is well-funded, with its panellists receiving good allowances and getting around in the latest Isuzu double cabs, the committee has been rocked by internal clashes and political controversy, which threaten to sink its mission to fix Zimbabwe’s broken media and information sector.
The Mail & Guardian can exclusively reveal that Nyarota has clashed repeatedly with Impi panellists, 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, lawyer Nyaradzo Priscilla Munangati-Manongwa 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 $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 [about] 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 $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: “Mr 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, Mr Gama.”
The M&G also understands that at one stage Gama confronted Nyarota over the purchase of a brand-new Prado vehicle for Nyarota to use in his capacity as Impi chairperson, suggesting that the money should rather be used to buy smaller vehicles for panel members. Nyarota has not taken delivery of the Prado.
Gama refused to be drawn by the M&G into discussing the emails, saying he does not comment on anything to do with Impi.
Clash over allowances and obligations
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.
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.
Former News Day editor Brian Mangwende intervened in the emails issue, urging the warring parties to stop “abusing” the Impi platform to settle personal scores.
Nyarota did not answer his mobile phone and did not reply to emailed questions.
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.
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. – Additional reporting by Harare correspondent