Nyathi, who has now taken up a job as spokesman for the government own watchdog, the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee, was forced off the business weekly after he reportedly clashed with the Zimbabwe Independent board of directors over “offensive articles” that appeared in his column.
In his column Nyathi regularly slammed Western sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe, blaming them for wrecking the economy and absolving the Mugabe administration from oft-repeated accusations of ruining the economy. He also openly backed the seizure of white-owned farms. Occasionally he would pour scorn on the MDC and its leadership for lacking a strategicnationalist vision.
His controversial column, which is reproduced on the NewZimbabwe.com website, where Nyathi is a blogger, provoked a regular flurry of hate responses from the Independent’s readership, with the letters’ columnbeing replete with correspondence from outraged readers urging him to come out in the open and declare his allegiance to Zanu-PF.
Management eventually capitulated.
“Management has put spin to the whole thing and say Nyathi resigned of his own accord to take up a job at JOMIC when in actual fact he was asked to step down,” a source at The Independent said.
A farewell party has been arranged for Nyathi, a long-serving member of the editorial team, who joined the newspaper in the 90s at the peak of its readership.
Technically, he is still under the employ of the Zimbabwe Independent until his contract of employment ends on July 31 as he has indicated. He is supposed to start work as JOMIC spokesperson on August 1.
Nyathi declined to comment on Monday on the circumstances surrounding his termination of employment at The Zimbabwe Independent, saying he was still employed at the paper and that the official spokesperson was Raphael Khumalo, the chief executive.
Nyathi however confirmed he had secured the job of JOMIC spokesperson. He said he got the job when he was already on leave at the Zimbabwe Independent.
“I then made an application for release,” Nyathi told The Zimbabwe Times.
But Khumalo refused to comment on Nyathi’s sudden exit from the newspaper.
“Speak to him, speak to Joram,” Khumalo said before switching off his phone.
Sources at the newspaper say Nyathi’s column had driven management into a cul-de-sac, as they were in a quandary over firing the deputy editor for his “outrageous viewpoints” when the newspaper claims to be a paragon of freedom of expression.
Bosses at the Zimbabwe Independent watched in consternation as Nyathi morphed from a vociferous government critic into a fiercely pro-establishment columnist. He regularly espoused political views in his column that were clearly not in sync with the pro-democracy movement, which the Zimbabwe Independent purports to subscribe to.
Matters came to a head when Nyathi penned an article under the headline, ‘Why I wanted to be a white man’, which was replete with racist undertones and explicit support for government’s controversial “land grab” policy.
Nyathi’s controversial article, described by our source as “a bit over the top” was a response to the saga surrounding US-based Dr Arikana Chihombori and ML Cremer, a commercial farmer in Chegutu, some 110km west of Harare. Chihombori, who is a citizen of the Unites States of America, had asked her sister, a pastor to claim possession of Cremer’s farm on her behalf.
According to the Chihombori’s sister, Cremer allegedly called her “a cold stupid kaffir”. Cremer is said to have also told her he didn’t “take instructions from a kaffir” to vacate his farm and that he employed 300 blacks to whom he gave instructions everyday. Cremer has denied the allegations, saying the allegation was created to fix him.
In response, Nyathi wrote in his column that unrepentant whites like Cremer who were used to titles of endearment such as ikhiwa or murungu, should be put in their proper place.
Nyathi wrote: “Mugabe has tried to demystify the white man through land reform regardless of his other human foibles.
“It (the white race) hawks itself as the donor race. It is the same race which maintains sanctions on Zimbabwe which have become as indefensible as rape whatever the perpetrator’s defence.”
Another source at The Independent said the article was censored on the instructions of group special projects editor Iden Wetherell after a heated exchange. Nyathi is said to have defiantly proceeded to submit his article for publication on New Zimbabwe.com, an online newspaper based in London, on which he is a blogger.
This reportedly incenced Wetherell, who is said to have recommended to publisher Trevor Ncube that Nyathi had gone too far and must be shown the door.
Efforts to verify this with Wetherell were futile as he was not immediately available to comment.
But our source said Nyathi had been censured regularly for his political articles, which were said to be “not in sync with the paper’s editorial policy”.
Wetherell was said to have intimated that Nyathi was embarrassing himself and the Zimbabwe Independent through his articles.
“The articles showed he was morphing into a George Charamba,” the source said
Our source said Zimbabwe Independent editor Vincent Kahiya had been instructed by Ncube to sack Nyathi but had refused, arguing that he must be given an honourable exit given his long service to the company.
Nyathi was then asked to step down, and he willingly obliged, according to our source. To manage the fallout, management informed staff that he had quit to take up the job of JOMIC spokesperson.
“But nothing can be further from the truth,” said the source.
Meanwhile, workers at the Zimbabwe Independent are said to be on a go-slow over salaries amid reports that reporters earn as little as US$200. The means the two titles, the Zimbabwe Independent and its sister Sunday paper, The Standard, are the worst paying newspapers in Zimbabwe.
Staff at the newspapers said it was appalling that they earned a third of what their counterparts at The Herald were earning. Cub reporters at The Herald earn a modest US$600, with the scale going up according to job title.
Last week staff at the Zimbabwe Independent were said to have resorted to a go-slow when negotiations reached a deadlock after management promised to increase salaries by only 40 percent. Last Friday’s issue of the paper was said to have been produced by senior editorial staff after reporters downed tools on Wednesday.
Wage negotiations are said to be still in progress. (The Zimbabwe Times)