Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Jonathan Moyo behind ‘economic and corporate vandalism’ at ZBC

By Bekithemba Mhlanga

Only Cuthbert Dube and his other ex – Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation board members can confirm that they failed to come up with a turnaround ‘strategy’ for the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation in 14 days. Or was it that they simply could not be bothered with what they saw as a meaningless exercise.

Professor Jonathan Moyo, flanked by ZBC General Manager News Tazzen Mandizvidza (left) and Political Correspondent Reuben Barwe, during a tour of ZBC Pockets Hill Studios
Professor Jonathan Moyo, flanked by ZBC General Manager News Tazzen Mandizvidza (left) and Political Correspondent Reuben Barwe, during a tour of ZBC Pockets Hill Studios

Dube and his lot have been in business settings before and would have known what it would take to meet the deadline.

There are more than enough two cents worth consultants in Harare to cobble up a strategy document, if that is what was required. But if what was required was a sound, reasonable and realistic turnaround strategy, may be they balked at this, for they knew it would be a herculean exercise.

Assuming the chief Executive himself, Happison Muchechetere, had decided that his commercial acumen did extend beyond completing subsistence and travel allowance claims, he would have found this task, a challenge to say the least.

There is a context to all of this. Between 2000 and 2004 , the then Minister of Information, and surprisingly enough the current Minister of the same , embarked on what can only be described as economic and corporate vandalism against the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation. This was both at the corporate level and the national level.

When Moyo was made information minister in 2000, he made far reaching changes in the manner the public media was run.

Not only did he introduce radical policy changes, including spearheading the promulgation of the draconian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, but he also influenced personnel changes involving top managers and editors as he sought to ensure total control of the company’s strategic direction.

Giving the Minister all the benefit of the doubt, the corporation was broken up (the phrase broken up is used intentionally instead of separated) into said strategic business units. Strategic, maybe from a political podium, but hardly so from a business perspective.

As a single entity, ZBC was already on shaky ground. Revenue generation was already declining, broadcasting equipment was gradually becoming obsolete and the threat of competition from satellite broadcasting, the internet was accelerating at an amazing pace. A skills drain had already been sapping away at the corporation for some time.

What these business units therefore became were shells waiting to be given a small nudge and they would fall over. And some would have had the whole ludicrous concept not been abandoned.

But before all this occurred, way back from the 1980s the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation had been on a slippery path of decline. One needs only ask the doyens who worked at Montrose and Mbare studios how the powers that be, had blindly frogged marched the corporation to what is has become now.

A significant chunk of the individuals who manned both the skilled and the unskilled tasks had been literally bussed in straight from the assembly points to the offices and studios of the corporation with very little expertise , experience or mentoring. From there on the systematic destruction of ZBC was well and truly in motion.

Over the years it became the Corporation that spent hugely and extravagantly on luxury cars for its executives and running the best shindigs at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair and the Harare Agricultural Show but very little on infrastructure.

The things that matter were donations from Iran, Germany etc. Ask Job Jonera, Onias Gumbo, Tommy Mandigora or the current Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chris Mutsvanga they will in honestly confirm this.

It would be rich for anyone to say that ZBC is in this mess because of pursuing a political agenda instead of looking at its commercial interest. While this may be contributory to an extent – there is nothing that says partisan corporate entities do not have the obligation to operate efficiently.

So by the time Prof Moyo begins his ZBC part one crusade, the situation was dire. Speak to any of the employees from that period how transfers, relocations and reassignments were effected – with neither rhyme nor reason. Experienced staff chose to leave or were forced to leave.

Over time strange non – commercial decision making took over in the marketing department and the advertisers voted with their feet. And in all this time ZBC still retained the prerogative to collect listeners’ licenses. It’s not as if it did not have some cash cow.

There should have been some process of the madness of getting ZBC to a sound business footing before the haphazard break of the 2000’s.

Getting the organisation’s infrastructure in good shape , resizing it as a single entity , retaining and recruiting the best people , appropriate and well trained individuals to drive the change and this could have been done while the corporation retained its partisan approach if it do desired would have been the key drivers.

In 2013 , the situation resembles similar bouts and fits of the past – new Minister comes in old CEO and Board goes out except that this time round its ex- minister in CEO and Board goes out.

It’s doubtful that Dube and others , would have not thought about whether retaining the leafy address of Pockets Hill was worthwhile or whether the time had come to unlock equity out of it by moving to small premises that would have met the same needs. They would have applied the same thought process to Mbare studios and Montrose studios in Bulawayo.

Would they not have considered working with production houses to generate some good quality 75% local good programming to improve the corporation’s product offer? The question would have crossed their minds that maybe getting a private organisation to collect and enforce listener’s licenses business unit.

Unlike Zimpapers, which has turned the corner, ZBC is hemorrhaging as a result of declining revenue, which could get worse with the impending opening up of the television broadcasting sector. The question must be asked again did the Board fail to produce a strategic plan or were just not interested in playing in the sand pit with Prof Moyo ?

Moyo has, however, wasted no time in reinforcing the 75 percent local content on national radio and television, which he pioneered during his first coming but had been abandoned by his successors namely Tichaona Jokonya (now late), Sikhanyiso Ndlovu and Webster Shamu.

If nothing will convince skeptics that what ZBC is in now in phase two of corporate and economic vandalism , then this seemingly contradictory quote from Moyo’s deputy, Supa Mandiwanzira on the ministry’s thrust and the goings on at ZBC will.

“The ministry has plans to formulate policy to help grow the media industry in Zimbabwe. It does not plan on management changes anywhere because it is the responsibility of boards at the parastatal to run the institutions,” he said.

Is this the point that Vice President Mujuru refers us to Amos 5: 13 in the holy book? Just maybe!