HARARE – President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s adviser, Trevor Ncube, launched an unprecedented attack on his own newspaper on Tuesday after it published a story saying the country’s new currency would devalue this month.
The NewsDay carried comments by Reserve Bank governor John Mangudya, who told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Finance on Monday that he did not believe the exchange rate between the United States dollar and RTGS dollar would still be 1:2.5 by the time Zimbabwe’s annual tobacco auction opens on March 20.
“We believe that before or on that date the rate will have reached its equilibrium. We don’t believe it will still be 2.5 (to the US$),” Mangudya said.
The NewsDay interpreted the reference to equilibrium to be the middle ground between the RTGS’ current official pegging to the parallel market rate which was 1:3.8 on Tuesday.
The state-run Chronicle newspaper, meanwhile, carried comments by Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube who spoke to National Public Radio in the United States. The Chronicle picked a headline, ‘RTGS to gain more value’, which however was now backed by any specific comment Ncube made.
Ncube’s comment to NPR radio giving rise to that headline was: “We are running a budget surplus. We are containing the growth of money supply. We’re determined to give value to the currency that we’ve launched and want people to believe in us. We’re determined to make this right.”
The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has recently been forced to deny it is fixing the exchange rate of the transitional RTGS currency after it remained stuck at the same level since February 22 when it was announced.
Businesses have held back from offloading their United States dollars to banks at that rate, leaving the parallel currency market to thrive.
The Zanu PF-supporting Ncube, who has previously tried to separate himself from his pro-opposition newspapers, is increasingly finding it difficult to justify his use to the Mnangagwa regime while his newspaper’s sing a different tune.
And in a bizarre intervention on Twitter, Ncube weighed in on the side of The Chronicle, a state-controlled newspaper.
“My heart breaks that @NewsDayZimbabwe got this story so wrong. This is an example of our blind spots/biases colouring our world view contributing to polarisation. While I maintain my newspapers are not me/I am not my newspapers – I am embarrassed. Sincere apologies to Zimbabwe,” Ncube tweeted.
ZimLive understands NewsDay editors are standing by the story, and are being supported by colleagues from The Standard and the Zimbabwe Independent, the other newspapers in Ncube’s Alpha Media Holdings stable.
A journalist at the stable told our correspondent: “There’s anger here over how Trevor has gone about this. The editors are fuming. Where have you ever seen anything like this where a publisher, with the facts right in front of him, picks a rival’s reporting over his own newspaper’s?”
Tendai Biti, who chairs the parliamentary public accounts committee, said NewsDay had got it right.
Biti said on Twitter: “How does anyone normal suggest that the NewsDay was wrong? John was pressed on the wrongness of the fixed peg of 1:2.5 and he conceded that this was wrong but he had to do that because he did not want a Big Bang. He later went on to admit the rate would fall to align with the street.”
International news agency, Reuters, whose correspondent MacDonald Dzirutwe sat through the parliamentary hearing, also came to the same conclusion as NewsDay.
“Zimbabwe’s central bank governor on Monday said the exchange rate for the new transitional currency is unlikely to remain at 2.5 per U.S. dollar by the time tobacco auctions open next week, suggesting the local unit will be devalued further,” Reuters reported.