WINDHOEK – THE future of the Southern Times newspaper – a joint venture between Namibia and Zimbabwe – is uncertain after a boardroom dispute over the project’s financing.
So intense have been the boardroom battles that each country is now printing its own edition.
Innocent Gore, who was editor of the paper, has returned to Harare, where the Southern Times is housed by Zimpapers. Tileni Mongudhi has assumed the reigns in Namibia, where the paper has its own offices but shares a budget with the government newspaper, New Era.
“There’s a dispute about how to move forward. It now looks almost certain that the Southern Times is not going to be a single edition again,” a senior executive familiar with the developments said.
The Namibians had long complained that Zimbabwe was not pulling its weight in the project, a brainchild of former Presidents Robert Mugabe and Sam Nujoma.
The Namibian government sets an annual budget for state media, with some R14 million going to NAMZIM – the company owning the Southern Times.
In Zimbabwe, meanwhile, Zimpapers does not receive grants from the government and must finance the loss-making project through income from its other publications.
NAMZIM has a board chaired by a Namibian who should be deputised by a Zimbabwean, according to a long-standing tradition. Conversely, the newspaper’s editor has always come from Zimbabwe with the deputy being Namibian.
The Namibians say Zimbabwe – whose main contribution was printing the paper – had not shown commitment to the project.
Things came to a head when Gore was returned to Zimbabwe in March, officially announcing the split.
Audrin Mathe, the CEO of New Era, is reported to be contemptuous of the Southern Times brand and used a recent meeting to call for the disbandment of NAMZIM.
“Zimpapers executives are keen to repair relations and they said such a decision (to shut down NAMZIM) could only be taken by the information ministers of the two countries,” the source added.
The Southern Times sells more newspapers in Namibia, and if the reconsolidation of the paper is not done soon, the Zimbabwe edition, which has been running with no advertising, may be forced to shut down.
The vision of the founders of the paper was to create a powerful regional newspaper that would neutralise the dominant voice of white-owned South African papers.
Mugabe and Nujoma wanted a newspaper to articulate the southern African story from the perspective of Africans, but the project has failed to gain sufficient traction – and may be running out of time.