Alpha Media Holdings (AMH) owner Trevor Ncube has admitted he was “wrong” to assume President Emmerson Mnangagwa would govern better than Robert Mugabe.
Ncube, one of Mnangagwa’s biggest cheerleaders during a 2017 military coup, says the 79-year-old Zanu PF leader has turned out worse than Mugabe, who ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years and died in September 2019.
The NewsDay, Zimbabwe Independent and The Standard publisher, who was speaking at the BizNews Conference in the Drakensberg, South Africa, renewed his criticism of opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, claiming he has “no capacity to turn things around.”
Ncube previously claimed Chamisa was driven by “naked ambition”, was a “terrible listener” and has a “terrible relationship with the truth.”
“There was an amazing buzz, we thought things are going to begin to happen,” Ncube said of the coup. “I was one of the first people that stood up and said give Emmerson Mnangagwa a chance. How wrong I was. I said that because I said this man has sat in the same room as Robert Mugabe, he has seen what Robert Mugabe has done to the country maybe he’s really interested in turning things around.
“This man played a role as far as Gukurahundi is concerned, the massacre of over 20,000 people in Matabeleland, maybe it’s time for him to make amends for that. So, I was generous in my spirit as a god-fearing man that this man was about to do a turnaround. Again, I was disappointed.”
Ncube revealed that he had quit Mnangagwa’s Presidential Advisory Council two years ago “because I can see this thing is not going to end very well.” His exit coincided with the government’s refusal to issue AMH a radio licence. An application for a TV licence was also rejected a year later.
“We thought Robert Mugabe was bad, but President Mnangagwa has shown an amazing degree of doing things worse than Robert Mugabe ever did,” Ncube says.
“Perhaps the most frightening thing Mnangagwa has done is the mutilation of the constitution and the capture of our judiciary. They took away my citizenship (under Mugabe), I got my lawyers to fight and I got my citizenship back because there was a judiciary that was professional. That is no longer the case, and that frightens me.”
Ncube said he had learned a lesson that “anyone who embarks on a coup does not do so because they want to promote democracy and widen economic prosperity.”
“The people who launched the coup in Zimbabwe were interested in protecting their personal interests, ethnic interests, business interests, and economic interests. It was not for the benefit of anyone else,” he says.
His romantic idea of a Mnangagwa presidency abandoned, Ncube is still dismissive of the main opposition, the Citizens Coalition for Change led by Chamisa.
“Where I stand right now on Zimbabwe, I’m very negative and pessimistic about where the country is. In the long term, I am fairly optimistic,” he told his audience.
“Do I have confidence in the MDC, it’s now called something else? No, I don’t. Do I see anybody right now in Zimbabwe with a capacity to turn things around? Not right now. I have no confidence in the opposition because I don’t see anybody who’s got the vision, the passion to move the country forward. I’ve no confidence in Zanu PF because they have participated in the destruction of the country, the destruction of society.
“We don’t have yet a Nelson Mandela, somebody who sees a vision and calls on anybody to follow that vision in terms of delivering a new Zimbabwe.”
Ncube said his hope was being encouraged by the fact that “the fascination about the liberation war is dying down”, and a change of leadership was inevitable as the old give way to the young.
Ncube’s AMH is struggling under massive debt and high staff turnover. He has sought a huge state bailout without success – which his critics will see as his main motivation for denouncing Mnangagwa.
AMH chief operating officer Kangai Maukazuva recently jumped ship, reportedly after questioning the financial viability of the company.
AMH has struggled to repay a US$2 million loan from the New York-based Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF), formerly Media Development Loan Fund.
MDIF provides affordable loans and equity financing to independent news and information business in countries where access to free and independent media is under threat. Ncube borrowed the money to shore up his struggling media empire a decade ago amid plunging copy sales and advertising revenues.
The financial situation and sustainability of AMH, just like many other media groups, has worsened due to the Covid-19 global pandemic as costs far outweigh revenues.
Prior to that, Ncube had been given financial and technical assistance to buy the Mail & Guardian in 2002, from which he was forced to relinquish majority shareholding in 2017.
The structured deal involved Ncube relinquishing control and exiting the M&G in South Africa, while paying off MDIF in Zimbabwe to buy back its almost 40 percent equity in AMH.
MDIF fulfilled their side of the bargain, but Ncube has not as he is struggling to pay off the US$2 million loan to consummate the deal.
Ncube had initially stabilised the then struggling M&G upon his arrival for a few years and it thrived, but then he embarked on a financially disastrous and unsustainable expansion programme, which included the Mail & Guardian Africa project, which overstretched the company’s finances.
At the time of his ignominious exit, Ncube admitted his disastrous failure: “I take full responsibility for the mistakes we have made. And I know too that we were not alone in making these mistakes. Around the world, media organisations everywhere are searching for the perfect solution for a commercially viable digital media publication.”
In a bid to fix the AMH mess back home, Ncube has been frantically hunting for new investors to inject new money and recapitalise the company.
A number of investors were approached and they came to view the penniless books, but hurriedly left spooked as the company is technically insolvent, ZimLive understands.
As a last resort, Ncube applied to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) for a bailout to pay off his debt albatross using RTGS on a 1:1 exchange rate, which meant a government subsidy and his company paying next to nothing to liquidate the debt.
That facility applied to local companies with foreign debts contracted after 2015, but AMH did not qualify as their liability was before that. As a result, the RBZ initially rejected AMH’s application as it did not fall within the prescribed timeframe for eligibility, but he was later granted a special dispensation to save the company from collapse. The RBZ helped AMH to pay off US$300,000 at the 1:1 exchange rate – essentially a state subsidy.
This reduced the principal debt to about US$1.7m, but with arrears the amount owing still remained about US$2 million.
Mnangagwa’s son-in-law Gerald Mlotshwa was roped in around 2019 to fund Ncube’s talk show ‘In Conversation with Trevor’. Mlotshwa reportedly bankrolled the programme for Z$1 million at the time, but the deal soured due to a lack of common vision and he exited, leaving funeral services company Nyaradzo Group to come in.
Maukazuva’s unceremonious exit has exposed the financial crisis threatening AMH’s survival, and the human toll it is taking. AMH has lost its good managers and journalists over the years, and continues to do so amid fears of an imminent collapse of the print division.
Due to poor salaries and bad working conditions, as well as Ncube’s miserly mean management, naivety and incompetence, most senior staff left unceremoniously.
Some of the senior managers who have left include Raphael Khumalo, Rita Chinyoka, Ruvimbo Chipango, Linda Mhlanga, Thembe Khumalo, Nancy Ziyambi and Thandie Ngwenya.
The newsroom was also left depleted by notable departures of top journalists including Barnabas Thondhlana, Basildon Peta, Sunsleey Chamunorwa, Davison Maruziva, Joram Nyathi, Moses Mudzviti, Norah Spie, Walter Marwizi, Vincent Kahiya, Constantine Chimakure, Brian Mangwende, Kelvin Jakachira, Dumisani Muleya, Nqaba Matshazi and Iden Wetherell (now late), among others.
“The way Ncube threw out and neglected Wetherell, the brains behind AMH editorial sophistication, depth and credibility, is internally regarded as a betrayal, scandal and tragedy by many at the company, which made, but also destroyed a number of careers,” an AMH source said.