Team Lacoste takes on Grace

HARARE - The Zanu PF faction rallying behind embattled Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s mooted presidential aspirations is said to be taking on powerful First Lady Grace Mugabe and her allies head-on again, as the factional and succession wars devouring the ruling party continue unabated.

Well-placed Zanu PF sources told the Daily News yesterday that the war was currently being fought in the corridors of State media, amid reports that panic had gripped Zimpapers after the editor of the Bulawayo-based Chronicle, Mduduzi Mathuthu, was removed from his position this week to a “backwater” associate publication based in Windhoek.

Mathuthu will become editor of the little-known and little-regarded Southern Times weekly from Monday — a dud propaganda joint venture between Zimpapers (publishers of the Chronicle and The Herald) and the Namibian Government’s New Era Publication Corporation (NEPC).

With Mathuthu himself emphatically telling his Twitter followers yesterday that he had neither asked for the transfer nor been given reasons for it, Zimpapers sources told the Daily News that there were fears that his controversial reassignment could see the heads of many editors and executives rolling soon.

“The removal of Mathuthu from the Chronicle is a continuation of the purges targeting editors at all State media perceived to be hostile to (embattled Vice President Emmerson) Mnangagwa by Team Lacoste.

“Mathuthu was ambushed with the fait accompli demotion (one he had no choice but to accept) on Thursday evening because of his perceived enthusiastic support for Grace and alleged close links to the G40,” a senior Zimpapers staffer said.

“Mdu is a victim of the worsening factional and succession wars that are chomping at the heart of Zanu PF and increasingly making life impossible for senior editorial staff at Zimpapers.

“Although this was not stated in his demotion letter, his editorial thrust at the Chronicle was deemed by Team Lacoste enforcers to be aligned to Dr Amai (Grace) and G40, and therefore hostile to the Mnangagwa faction.

“Curiously, the official letter announcing his banishment to Siberia was copied to (Information permanent secretary George) Charamba who is linked to Team Lacoste, and although it was dated May 17, it was only brought to him on the 19th, at a time that the president had gone to South Africa (for the centenary celebrations of Fort Hare University),” another Zimpapers source said.

A reliable government source chipped in saying the decision to axe Mathuthu was taken after the Chronicle portrayed Mnangagwa in poor light regarding some controversial statements that he had allegedly uttered at the height of Gukurahundi massacres in the early 1980s.

“Mathuthu’s removal was delayed after Charamba infuriated Mugabe by publicly attacking three G40 ministers while claiming to have been sent by the president. The Lacoste faction felt at the time that it had to check back a bit.

“From what I have heard, Charamba told (Zimpapers CEO Pikirayi) Deketeke that his head would be on the chopping block if he did not act against Mathuthu, prompting him (Deketeke) to hurriedly remove and demote Mathuthu on Thursday night,” the source said.

A Lacoste source said: “We’re testing the limits of what we can do right now to clear ED’s (Mnangagwa’s) path to the presidency. “Mujuru had Mugabe measured, but her mistake was that she failed to have Zimpapers on her side. The Chronicle under Mathuthu was the last pocket of resistance at Zimpapers, now we can control the message across the country in terms of the State media control.”

This is not the first time that senior editorial staff at State media, particularly at the prized propaganda hub Zimpapers, have paid a high price after being caught up in Zanu PF’s seemingly unstoppable factional and succession wars.

Former Sunday Times editor, Edmund Kudzayi, was unceremoniously jettisoned from the editorship of the weekly Sunday Mail last year — two years after he was acquitted on treason charges that had everything to do with the ruling party’s deadly infighting.

Kudzayi, like Mathuthu, was linked to former Information minister and now Higher Education minister, Jonathan Moyo — an alleged G40 kingpin together with Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere.

So ugly were the ructions when Kudzayi was fired that he did not even merit mention in The Herald report which announced that Mabasa Sasa would be the new Sunday Mail editor.

Kudzayi was arrested in May 2014 on charges of being the mastermind behind the notorious Facebook character Baba Jukwa which scandalised Zanu PF and Mugabe to no end in the run-up to the hotly-disputed 2013 national elections.

Government insiders told the Daily News at the time that Zanu PF bigwigs were making a “sacrificial lamb out of Kudzayi after failing to nail” Moyo.

Kudzayi made history in the process for being the first State media journalist to be arrested and charged with undermining Mugabe’s authority, among other charges, since Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain in April 1980.

Prominent Zanu PF activist Goodson Nguni last year called on Zanu PF to investigate Moyo for allegedly plotting against Mugabe.

“I hope Zanu PF will understand that Moyo has previously stated that he wants to destroy Zanu PF from within and he is co-ordinating the public and private media to write negative stories about Zanu PF, the president, vice presidents and all progressive Zanu PF members.

“The recent BBC interview was held in Zimbabwe at Moyo’s request where he wanted to denigrate senior members of the party and talk about Zanu PF issues when he is not the party’s secretary for information. I hope Zanu PF will look very closely at all his editorial appointments at Zimpapers,” he charged then.

“I had occasion to challenge (Herald editor Caesar) Zvayi on why The Herald is taking Mnangagwa to court over criminal defamation.

“Zvayi told me to my face that Moyo ordered him to sue Mnangagwa in order to remove criminal defamation.

“Zvayi also told me that Moyo was the author of all anti-Zanu PF stories carried in the Zimpapers stable. Zvayi also told me that Moyo wants criminal defamation removed so that journalists can write false stories and not get arrested,” Nguni added.

Before then, Zvayi himself was suspended for a month amid stunning accusations that The Herald had published a story based on “emotive and false assertions that smack of a hidden political agenda”.

At the time, the government mouthpiece was seen as being on a crusade against former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono — an editorial stance that later saw Zimpapers apologising to the former central bank chief who was in Mugabe’s good books.

Also, in May last year, The Herald’s senior assistant editor, George Chisoko, was suspended for publishing a business story in the State-controlled daily highlighting Zimbabwe’s dying economy.

In the unusually candid story, the paper published what economists and millions of ordinary Zimbabweans talk about every day, and which private newspapers such as the Daily News routinely publish — that the Zimbabwean economy is on its knees.

The story in question was aptly headlined: Feb Inflation points to Dying Economy — and correctly observed that the country’s continuing deflation was a sign that Zimbabwe’s economy was now in full-fledged recession, with the trend expected to continue.

Happiness Zengeni, the newspaper’s business editor who originated the story, as well as the deputy chief sub editor who handled the story, also received written reprimands.

Sources at the government daily said authorities were “livid when this obvious truth” was published in the newspaper.

“The crisis we have is that no one is sure what to write and what not to write about events in Zimbabwe as it seems that the authorities prefer fiction to truth.

“It is very sad that Sox (George) has been hauled over the carpet for okaying a clearly accurate story,” one of the sources said, pointing to Zanu PF’s factional and succession wars as being a major contributing factor to the turmoil devouring Zimpapers.

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