Things falling apart at Zimpapers amid call to investigate board chair

Tommy Sithole

STATE-CONTROLLED integrated media oligopoly, Zimpapers is reportedly on the verge of an implosion as the year closes at one of the all-time lows due to alleged poor leadership under group chairman Tommy Sithole.

The crisis, according to sources, has also been worsened by the general economic climate made worse by Covid-19.

Sithole (72) is said to have failed to bring dynamism into the company despite a lofty profile as an international administrator and business executive.

In the last reporting period, Zimpapers’ financials showed the company barely scrapping a living with massive losses and poor business performances.

Several newspaper titles have been taken from the street and are now online, with little or no advertising while staff is being laid off.

Newspaper circulation has further plummeted under Sithole, with the major titles such as Herald and Sunday Mail now selling a couple of thousand papers each week – the worst business in years.

Facing a bleak future, a number of journalists and staff have resigned.

Nearly 30 have left the organisation in the past six months, with more expected to wave goodbye to what has been the country’s most stable media stable.

The low morale at the company is blamed on Sithole, described by insiders as interfering and self-imposing, a “feared and unpleasant character with no sound strategy to change the fortunes of the company”.

Sithole was appointed last year as a non-executive chairman. He had the backing of Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa with his appointment endorsed by President Mnangagwa.

“His first goal was to try and wrest power from the CEO, Pikirayi Deketeke,” said a source, adding that the under-fire Zimpapers boss wanted to elevate the group finance officer to assume the role of Chief Operating Officer.

It is understood that Deketeke, who has a frosty relationship with Sithole dating back to the former’s previous tenure as chairman around 2006, has been living in fear.

“He has been rescued by Permanent Secretary, Nick Mangwana who stood his ground when Sithole, with the support of Minister Mutsvangwa, tried to engineer the ouster of PD (Deketeke),” the source said.

Deketeke and Mangwana have reportedly grown closer over the past year.

But Sithole, a former editor at the flagship daily – The Herald – has gone on to try to get a grip on the operations because of what is described as an inordinate sense of entitlement.

According to sources, he has hired his friends and former lackeys Davison Maruziva and Funny Mushava as “consultants” at The Herald.

He also prevented one Gareth Willard from being retired this time last year.

It is also understood that he once sought to bring back Isaac Zulu, another retired contemporary of his, but Zulu turned the offer down.

“Sithole likes to surround himself with spies and lackeys so that he can control everything,” the source said.

“The consultants have been here for a year and we don’t know how much they earn, but there has certainly not been any improvement in the quality of the work.

“Stringers and correspondents have been laid off for lack of money, but Tommy influences the retention of his lackeys. This is something that must be investigated as it constitutes abuse of office and poor corporate governance,” the source said.

It is understood that Sithole does not enjoy good relations within the board, that also includes the likes of Shingi Munyeza and Rejoice Nharaunda.

Several journalists in The Herald newsroom told this publication that the workplace had become chaotic with Sithole’s lackeys taking charge.

“The editor (Hatred Zenenga) is powerless and even diary sessions are chaired by the consultants. The editor will just be there as a sitting duck. The other day he was complaining about mistakes in the paper but these are the guys that are said to be hired for quality control.

“As we speak Funny Mushava is the de facto news editor,” the source said. This follows the removal of Obert Chifamba from the position a month ago.

Zenenga himself is said to be confused, frustrated and unsettled.

“He sees shadows everywhere and accuses people of sabotaging him,” an editor said.

Ironically, Zenenga was elevated to head The Herald from Manica Post due to his close ties to both Minister Mutsvangwa and Sithole.

At the weekend, a senior journalist in the broadcasting division revealed that the company simply had no answer to massive staff exodus, which is coming at a time when there are at least six new players being licensed by Government.

Sunday Mail, once a mass circulating weekly that is now selling a few thousand copies, is also crippled by staff movements and low morale.

Sithole’s mobile was not going through when attempts were made to seek comment from him.

He had also not responded to questions sent to him via WhatsApp.