Gilbert Nyambabvu quits ZBC, criticises its funding model

HARARE – Gilbert Nyambabvu has left his role as director of digital and TV services at the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation after nearly three years with the public broadcaster.

Nyambabvu said it was his decision to leave, a year after he was unexpectedly shunted out his previous job as the ZBC’s head of news and current affairs.

“I always meant to do between two and three years at the national broadcaster and then move on because I take the view that public service is a shared responsibility and no single individual can have all the answers,” Nyambabvu told ZimLive.

Reflecting on his time at the ZBC, Nyambabvu called it a “teaching experience.”

“You can’t learn from four CEOs in just under three years; the corporation is unique like that,” he said.

“I’m proud of one small but in my view hugely impactive initiative – we launched Ndebele for beginners lessons on the ZBC YouTube channel; a contribution to address one of the mischiefs of our country’s history.”

Nyambabvu was critical of the ZBC’s funding model.

“For our policy-makers, they need to understand that while the 1950s British concept of Public Service Broadcasting might have universal applicability, its funding model doesn’t,” he said.

“The BBC gets billions of pounds annually from licence fee collections because its viewers and listeners like to be compliant; our people on the other hand are just not minded to pay.”

Part of the ZBC’s problem, he said, is that while it is allowed to source for advertising, “the public utility content requirements imposed on the corporation have no commercial value and, therefore, little prospect of attracting advertising.”

“What this means, in my view, is that the government must fully fund the public broadcaster,” he said.

Nyambabvu is expected to return to the United Kingdom and rejoin online publication New, this time as CEO.

The 46-year-old’s time at the ZBC was not without incident. His removal as head of news and current affairs in August 2020 came after he was summoned by first lady Auxillia Mnangagwa who hectored him for half-an-hour after he had suspended her favourite cameraman.

Cameraman Stan Marodza was suspended after causing the broadcasting of a video clip showing President Emmerson Mnangagwa receiving a donation of Covid-19 masks and PPEs from Delish Nguwaya, the country representative of corruption-linked company – Drax International – which was irregularly awarded tenders worth over US$60 million for medical supplies.

ZBC’s senior editorial team had decided that the clip would not be used, believing they were shielding Mnangagwa from an already raging controversy over how Drax was awarded tenders. Nguwaya is a business associate of Mnangagwa’s twin sons, Sean and Collins.

Three days later, however, Marodza allegedly saw an opportunity when most senior editorial gatekeepers were absent and caused the clip to run on the main news.

Government spokesman Nick Mangwana originally backed Nyambabvu.

“I am informed that after the reporter shelved the story, the scammers got to the cameraman Stan Marodza who managed to get the clip played three days later and then gave the original to Nguwaya for leveraging officials,” he tweeted on June 20, 2020.

Ministry of information officials and ZBC chiefs were shocked however, on June 23, when Nyambabvu was summoned by the president’s wife who was critical of the original decision not to run the clip, and the subsequent decision to suspend the cameraman.

“Nyambabvu was fired five times in that meeting,” a colleague briefed on the discussions said. “The first lady was surrounded by 15 or so men, security types, and didn’t give him a chance to put a word in. She completely went bananas.”

Marodza later appeared before a ZBC internal disciplinary committee and was cleared of wrong-doing after the first lady’s dramatic intervention.

Given to sudden mood swings, Auxillia Mnangagwa’s relations are notoriously fluid.

“Marodza and the reporter Theophilus Chuma would also later fall out of favour and be banned from covering her because she doesn’t have permanent pleasures,” a ZBC insider said.

The ZBC is tightly controlled by the ruling Zanu PF party and the security establishment. Nyambabvu’s time spent in the United Kingdom and previous criticism of the regime meant that he was always viewed with suspicion.

One of Nyambabvu’s colleagues said: “Well, with this lot you must always have an exit plan and be sure to trigger it at a time of your own choosing; otherwise you risk being escorted off site by security, followed by a lengthy spell in remand prison.”

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