The investigation into the tragic and shocking death of ZIDA boss, Douglas Munatsi, in Harare early last week has remained largely shrouded in mystery, while speculation and rumor-mongering among interested observers have gone into overdrive.
By Geoffrey Nyarota
Published details of investigations by the Homicide Section of the ZRP as well as by our various media outlets which were daily piling information in the public domain left the public feeling frustratingly uninformed about the Zimbabwe Investment and Development Agency boss’s appalling death. The more the information the public was fed the less informed they became about Munatsi’s weird departure.
As we approached the end of the second week after the incident at Northfields Penthouse complex at the corner of Josiah Tongogara and Fifth Avenue in the capital city the view was increasingly expressed that a shoddy job of investigation had been conducted by all concerned.
The more furious the efforts of the journalists in investigating and reporting on the tragedy, the less effectively informed the public became on the details surrounding what newspaper articles called “murder most foul”. They provided no evidence, however, to sustain this categorical declaration.
An official statement issued by Charles Gardner, chairman of the Northfields Apartments Owners Association ruled out the possibility of an electrical fault being the possible cause of the fire that broke out inside Munatsi’s 9th Floor flat.
There was no electricity in the complex at the time at an address diagonally opposite State House, the heavily guarded residence of the President of Zimbabwe.
As for the cause of the blaze or of the death of the BancABC founder there has continued to be no indication whatsoever.
Two days after the event, NewsHawks, the online newspaper normally associated with serious investigative journalism, released a curious titbit. The nails had been removed from Munatsi’s fingers and toes, apparently in an act of torture. The Sunday Mail reported later that all nails were intact, save for one damaged in an earlier incident.
But before light was shed on the matter of the allegedly missing nails, NewsHawks posted what had the makings of a sensational scoop – two images of a beautiful woman, said to be those of one Coletta, the girl said in initial reports to have visited Munatsi on the evening of his death. She would therefore have been the last person to have seen the deceased alive and was therefore a person of immense interest to the investigators.
While the pictures and several others subsequently of the girl who signed herself in at the security check-point of Northfields at 7.15 pm, while departing at 9.18 pm on the night of the fiery conflagration went viral on social media, details about her identity have effectively remained elusive. So did her whereabouts.
The initial pictures of the girl, obviously a person of style and refined tastes, were taken at Mutarazi Falls in the Honde Valley and in the arrivals Hall of Robert Mugabe International Airport. The subsequent images, all clearly downloaded from the internet, depicted Coletta while frolicking – on a motorcycle in one image – in what appear to be desert sands in Dubai.
Then there was an optimistic development.
A further image surfaced. It featured the rear view of a late model Toyota Fortuner SUV. The name COLETTA was emblazoned on the personalised number plate, as if to help the investigators to easily link the vehicle to its owner.
By the time Munatsi was buried on Sunday, following one of the most glamorous funeral services ever seen in Harare, the identity of the now unfathomable Coletta remained defiantly steeped in total mystery. This left frustrated journalists with no option but to turn to unlikely sources, relatives and friends of the deceased Munatsi, some of whom clearly had no idea, having been nowhere near the scene, to provide them with information likely to help to unravel the mystery of the blaze which allegedly killed Munatsi.
I use the word “allegedly” deliberately, given that according to the police, the deceased man’s red T-Shirt and black shorts were not burnt – a rather baffling detail, given that the bedroom in which Munatsi’s body was found in a sitting position was wholly incinerated.
Parallels were inevitably drawn between the death of Munatsi in the fiery blaze and that of former Defence Forces supremo, Lieutenant General Solomon Tapfumaneyi Mujuru, in similar circumstances back in 2011. Every self-respecting observer or analyst declared Mujuru’s death to be an obvious case of murder. No murder suspect was ever arrested, however. Even the tough-talking then Vice President Joyce Mujuru, who was the deceased’s spouse, grew worryingly silent with the passage of time. Initially she had threatened to expose her husband’s killers in media reports published especially abroad.
“Who killed Mujuru?” was the inquisitive headline over an article that appeared in one of Harare’s more respectable newspapers, The Zimbabwe Independent. Given that readers normally ask the questions while newspapers provide the answers, this particular Mujuru-linked question constituted implicit admission by the journalistic fraternity that they had failed dismally to assist by mounting a meaningful investigation into the death of General Mujuru.
Last Sunday, ZRP spokesperson, Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi, was reported by The Sunday Mail to have told its reporters, possibly on Saturday, that police investigations were still underway. This had been the position since Monday.
“We are still conducting investigations,” Nyathi said, “and if any new information comes up we will let you know.”
Nyathi must have been reading from a prepared statement because these were his exact words to me when I called him on Wednesday to inquire about the nails reported by NewsHawks to have been removed in an alleged act of torture.
While the information had been in the public domain since Monday, courtesy of the official police release that day, the same Sunday Mail article quoted a police source as having disclosed that the police were anxious to interrogate the same Coletta whose face had graced social media outlets for about four days.
On Wednesday the police issued a statement to say they had now finally interviewed Coletta but their investigations were still continuing.
A tribute to the departed Munatsi by Alpha Media Holdings owner, Trevor Ncube, appeared in the NewsDay issue of Friday, 3 December 2021.
Ncube intimated that the now deceased Munatsi, as managing director of First Merchant Bank, had been instrumental in the bank financing his acquisition of 100 percent control of Zimind Publishers. NewsDay is the daily newspaper in the Zimind stable. Apparently Munatsi had also supported Ncube’s acquisition of the Mail & Guardian weekly newspaper in South Africa.
“He took a lot of flak in Zanu PF circles for supporting me,” Ncube said.
“As l write this, Doug’s funeral has been postponed to allow for further investigations into the circumstances surrounding his death. I hope that the investigation will be a thorough and impartial one, conducted by those committed to justice.”
Ncube gave no indication in his touching eulogy that his own newspaper stable might be part of the thorough and impartial investigation being conducted by those committed to justice.
It is evident that a culture of serious investigative journalism needs to be inculcated among reporters on the Zimbabwean media landscape to augment the effort of the ZRP, especially in investigating endemic corruption.
The Willowgate Scandal was a textbook case of how journalism can be effective where police work in hamstrung. The press needs to go beyond routine regurgitation of the hackneyed statements issued by the usually very co-operative and well-meaning Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi. He is a good fellow and he tries hard within the constraints of his organisation. His output cannot go beyond the findings of the investigators on the ground.
The journalists should mount their own in-depth probes into the cases that they often hastily describe as cases of murder on the basis of often ill-informed speculation, fuelled by toxic and politically polarised rumour.
But rather than accept as normal the kind of esoteric journalism that accepts as normal professional practice the propagation of newspaper articles that see former President Robert Mugabe being allegedly subjected to sleepless nights at State House by the ghost of the late Josiah Magama Tongogara, Zimbabwe needs to inculcate among our journalists a genre of investigative journalism that always seeks to dig deeply as humanly possible for the truth.
But, apart from being dangerous and risky, serious investigative reporting can be quite costly to undertake. Then there is the need for proper training in investigative work. A common complaint among Zimbabwean investigative journalists from various media houses is that while editors are happy to assign reporters to investigate, they normally do not have a budget to cover the cost of the investigations.
A recently conducted investigation revealed that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has doled out in excess of $300 million in donations to fund media projects throughout the world.
USA giant media outlets, CNN, NPR ($24 663 066) and NBC are among the beneficiaries of the generosity of the Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. So are the BBC, The Guardian ((US$12 951 391), The Financial Times and The Daily Telegraph in the United Kingdom. Across the English Channel, prominent newspapers such as Le Monde in France, Der Spiegel (Germany) and El Pais in Spain have benefitted from the Bill Gates funds.
Even Al-Jazeera has joined the other big players and been allocated US$1 000 000 of Bill Gates funds.
Beneficiaries on our own continent include South Africa’s Bhekisisa. At US$3 990 182 they received slightly more than the BBC and CNN individually. Punch of Nigeria received a little over $2 million, while back in South Africa, The Mail and Guardian, formerly owned for a while by our compatriot and media entrepreneur, Trevor Ncube, was paid a modest $492 974.
Even Caixin Media of China joined the queue for Bill Gates funds, walking away with a cool $250 000.
More significantly, Gates underwrites to the tune of $38 million a wide network of investigative journalism centres. The most generous grant goes to the International Centre for Journalists in Washington DC, with $20 436 938. On the African continent the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism of Nigeria is very well funded. So is the Institute for Advanced Journalism Studies in Johannesburg, where our own William Tagwireyi Bango was a lecturer for many years. He relocated back home in 1999 at the launch of The Daily News, where he became training editor.
Wole Soyinka, is a leading Nigerian English language playwright, novelist, poet, and essayist. Nigeria has come to terms with a bad reputation for corruption.
The Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) runs social justice programmes, which seek to expose corruption, regulatory failures and human rights abuses, while using the tool of investigative journalism. The centre embraces a more robust line of activities; “that have greater capacity for engendering the appropriate values of investigative journalism in the Nigerian media environment”.
While it would be a magnificent achievement to secure funding from the Bill Gates Foundation for a Zimbabwean investigative journalism training programme or institution, an even more noble accomplishment would be to secure such funding from our own wealthy Zimbabwean compatriots and entrepreneurs.
I believe there exist some among their ranks who would be only too happy to support such initiative, while ploughing some of their vast fortunes back into society through a programme that seeks to reinforce professional investigative journalism on the Zimbabwean media landscape.
I have in mind here, first and foremost the name of our own London-based billionaire business entrepreneur, Strive Masiyiwa of Econet fame. Other names, in no particular order of net worth or other priority, would include those of businessman and philanthropist, Shingirai Mutasa (Masawara) of Joina City fame, politician and business mogul, Phillip Chiyangwa, tycoon Nick van Hoogstraten, Kudakwashe Regimond Tagwirei, founder and CEO of the Sakunda Holdings Group as well as Phillip “Sahwira Mukuru” Mataranyika of the Nyaradzo Funeral Group.
The list would not be complete without inclusion of politician, businessman and farmer, Obert Mpofu, Zed Koudounaris and Michel Fowler both of Simbisa Brands, the Chicken Inn people, who own a large number of other brands; Tawanda Mutyabere of Chicken Slice; the nation’s wealthiest female entrepreneur, Divine Ndlukula (Securico), Muller Conrad “Billy” Rautenbach, the majority partner in the Green Fuel biofuel project in Zimbabwe; Reserve Bank Governor, Dr John Mangudya, Ophthalmologist, Dr Solomon Guramatunhu, the Sam Levy Family of Sam Levy Village reputation and Ken Sharpe, founder and CEO of the West Property Group.
The begging bowl would, of absolute necessity, have to be extended to the spiritual world, where philanthropists of repute have emerged. They include Archbishop Ezekiel Handinawangu Guti of ZAOGA, Prophets Emmanuel Makandiwa and Walter Magaya and, of course, the new kid on the block, Passion Java.
The list is in fact, inexhaustible.