SW Radio Africa (London)

Zimbabwe: 500 Face Retrenchment At "Overstaffed" ZBC

There is more drama reported to be brewing at Zimbabwe's national broadcaster ZBC, with at least 500 workers facing retrenchment in what the state-run Herald newspaper described as a "restructuring exercise" meant to cut financial losses.

The news follows reports that workers at ZBC, which functions as a ZANU PF mouthpiece, have not been paid for over six months and the corporation is struggling with a $44.3 million debt.

According to the Herald, monthly revenue at ZBC is about $275,000, against a monthly budget of $2.3 million, with workers salaries taking up $1.6 million of that budget. That means employees are owed over $9 million.

News of the impending retrenchments follows a report to parliament by the Secretary for Information, Media and Broadcasting Services, George Charamba, who on Thursday told the relevant Portfolio Committee that ZBC "was overstaffed".

Charamba is quoted as saying out of "a thousand plus workers at the ZBC", the number of those who are "really minding the core business" of the broadcasting "hardly goes beyond 500".

"If you work out the equation, it tells you that for every reporter there are 50 or so support workers around him, meanwhile the reporter goes without services, which means ZBC has taken flesh in non-core areas," Charamba told legislators.

Political commentator and former ZBC journalist Bekithemba Mhlanga agreed with Charamba that the public broadcaster is "overstaffed", saying that this has been the case for the last three decades. He added that they need to attend to serious structural issues as well as incompetence.

"When I was working there in the 90s you could actually tell that there were too many drivers, too many secretaries, there were too many managers, too many assistants. Very few people were related to the core business of broadcasting," Mhlanga told SW Radio Africa.

As for ZBC's minimal revenue, Mhlanga said: "Everyone should be surprised because they have got a captive market for advertising which they have failed to tap very well. They put a poor product out there. Secondly they collect the license fee as well and they have done badly in that area."

According to The Herald, Charamba said ZBC is "engaging government to assume" the millions owed. But this comes at a time when government claims to be broke and is still to pay out teachers' Christmas bonuses, which were promised last month.

The broadcaster is currently under new management, brought in by newly appointed Minister for Information Jonathan Moyo, who dissolved the board of directors headed by Happison Muchechetere.

Charamba told the parliamentary committee that Muchechetere and general manager for finance, Retired Brigadier-General Elliot Kasu, were given the boot in order to facilitate an audit of ZBC, "without undue influence".

But insiders have told SW Radio Africa that factionalism within ZANU PF, especially drama involving Jonathan Moyo and his history, was the reason they got rid of the entire board.

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