HARARE - Caesar Zvayi, editor of The Herald newspaper, has been sent on forced leave amid stunning accusations by Information, Media and Broadcasting Services minister, Jonathan Moyo that the paper had published a story based on “emotive and false assertions that smack of a hidden political agenda.”
A top government official yesterday said Zvayi had not been suspended but “sent home.”
The State-controlled Herald has been on a crusade against former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono, and yesterday’s lead story in the paper, headlined “Gono, Biti ties raise suspicion” was the final straw which angered government with Moyo saying the paper had taken the approach of smearing the former Central Bank boss.
Zimpapers, the company that owns The Herald, said yesterday Zvayi had been sent on forced leave for an unspecified period.
Reports indicated last night that Zvayi had been suspended for a month while the Zimpapers board and government, which controls the publication, were still working out modalities of how to deal with the situation.
Zimpapers apologised for making “unfounded inferences” against Gono that he was unsuitable for the Buhera senatorial post because he had hired Tendai Biti, the MDC secretary general to fight off graft allegations levelled against him by his former advisor Munyaradzi Kereke.
In an agonising retraction, the paper said it had taken remedial action by suspending Zvayi, a former geography teacher who was recently appointed to the hot seat.
A few years ago, Zvayi left the country to join greener pastures in Botswana but was deported.
Since he took over after elections, The Herald has taken a deep interest in the Zanu PF factional fights resulting in the minister of State in President’s office, Didymus Mutasa complaining bitterly about being smeared in the paper.
Pikirayi Deketeke, the Zimpapers group editor-in-chief, confirmed Zvayi’s forced leave, in a brief statement.
“In yesterday’s issue of The Herald we carried a story under the headline: “Gono, Biti ties raise suspicion,” The Herald said in a statement issued by Deketeke. The article makes unfounded inferences that former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor, Dr Gideon Gono, is not a suitable Zanu PF candidate for the vacant Buhera senate seat because he allegedly hired MDC-T secretary-general Tendai Biti as his lawyer."
“The article also wrongly implies that Dr Munyaradzi Kereke is a Zanu PF legislator. We apologise to both Zanu PF and Dr Gono for any harm that might have been caused by the story. Zimpapers has since sent on forced leave the Editor of The Herald with immediate effect.”
But Moyo was ruthless in his strongly worded statement. He said the story lied that Kereke was a Zanu PF legislator when infact he was expelled before the July 31 elections.
Moyo took exception to false claims that only Zanu PF’s Manicaland province had endorsed Gono’s nomination to fill the vacant senatorial seat in Manicaland, created following the death of liberation icon Kumbirai Kangai.
Moyo accused the State-run daily of being mischievous and ignoring a December 11 Zanu PF politburo meeting that unanimously endorsed the nomination of Gono as senator for Buhera.
“There’s therefore nothing amiss or untoward about the nomination which was done in a transparent manner and in terms of both the law and Zanu PF procedures,” Moyo’s statement partly said.
The minister blasted The Herald for waging “a shameless smear campaign against Gono using the cover of cheap politics.”
“Even worse, The Herald’s undisguised smear campaign against Gono is based on quotations from faceless and nameless sources described as ‘senior Zanu PF officials’ and ‘a Zanu PF politburo member with close ties to the Zimbabwe Defence Forces.’
“One does not need to be a rocket scientist to realise not only that the faceless and nameless sources in the unfortunate story are uncreative inventions but also that it is not possible for Kereke, who is clearly the main source of the scurrilous story, to be at one and the same time rolled into ‘senior Zanu PF officials’ and ‘a Zanu PF Politburo member with close ties to the Zimbabwe Defence Forces’,” Moyo said.
Moyo said it is sad that The Herald, found it so easy to use an out-dated and discredited tactic of basing serious allegations, false claims and emotive assertions on faceless and nameless Zanu PF sources, adding that such a tactic is not journalism, but political mischief propelled by cowardice.
He described The Herald’s attempt to bring the Zimbabwe Defence Forces “into disrepute” through Kereke’s story “as not just disappointing, but as very shocking, unprofessional and totally unacceptable.”
While acknowledging that Gono’s move to hire Biti as lead legal counsel “might raise some eyebrows” it “should be understood in the clearest of terms that like any other Zimbabwean, Dr Gono is entitled under the country’s constitution to choose his own lawyer.”
Moyo, who has been on a crusade to build bridges and forge a new governance paradigm, said “the notion that there are Zanu PF lawyers and MDC lawyers is a sad commentary on our national politics whose polarisation ‘has gone too far’.”
Added Moyo: “In any event, the hullaballoo over Gono’s selection of the secretary general of the MDC, Tendai Biti, as his lawyer pales into insignificance when compared to the fact that there are many marriages between Zanu PF and MDC members, some of which are pretty high profile. Surely, what is good for the bedroom must also be good for the court room.”
Moyo also said Gono’s nomination was done transparently.