THE Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) is grappling with serious management challenges linked to Helliate Rushwaya — the newly appointed board chair — during her tenure as the acting chief executive officer at the public broadcaster.

BRENNA MATENDERE

These range from extensive financial mismanagement, corruption, mismanagement,  among other matters which compromised the organisation’s stability and integrity.

Rushwaya is President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s niece and is also related to Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet, Martin Rushwaya. Helliate and Martin’s fathers are brothers.

In addition, Helliate is also related to Zimbabwe Miners’ Federation president Henrrieta Rushwaya who was convicted of trying to smuggle six kilogrammes of gold at Robert Mugabe International Airport. Henrietta escaped with a slap on the wrist after being given a wholly suspended 18-month jail term after paying a US$5 000 fine. The suspension was on condition that she would not commit a similar offence in three years.

Before the conviction, Henrietta featured in the Al Jazeera documentary The Gold Mafia, which identified her as part of a syndicate involved in money laundering and smuggling of the precious mineral. At the ZBC, Helliate Rushwaya served in the previous board chaired by Gweru-based medical doctor Josaya Tai between August 2019 and April 2020.

Other members were Ambassador Thomas Bvuma, Tsitsi Dangarembizi, Dorothy Mabika, Devnanda Popatla, Reverend Thompson Dube and Brian Mutangandebvu.

Rushwaya was a non-executive director responsible for policy matters such as digitisation at the national broadcaster. The board was fired in January this year (2024) by Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services minister Jenfan Muswere over a number of key performance, oversight and corporate governance issues, as well as tribally divisive remarks by two of its presenters, Farai Juliet Magada and Victoria Manase.

The presenters on ZBC’s Good Morning Zimbabwe show, spoke about apartheid in South Africa and said 19th-century Ndebele King Lobengula in the discussion sold the country for sugar.

They also said colonialism was good because it brought about modernisation.
Rushwaya, who subsequently took over as ZBC chairperson, was appointed acting CEO of the broadcaster in 2020 for eight months.

Investigations reveal murky deals

Investigations by The NewsHawks in collaboration with Information for Development Trust, a non-profit organisation that supports journalists in southern Africa to report public sector corruption and bad governance, revealed that Rushwaya’s tenure was marked by a number of murky deals which management is still grappling to solve.

Some of the deals and partnerships agreed by Rushwaya were questioned by the Information ministry as seen in documents perused by this publication during the investigation.

Information secretary Nick Mangwana in 2021 stopped Rushwaya’s push for a US$50 000 payment to a United Kingdom-based company, Media Business Solutions, for the provision of football content after a shady arrangement.

In a letter dated 27 May 2021, reference K4/5/1/45, addressed to Rushwaya, Mangwana highlighted a number of opaque issues that shrouded the deal including factors which showed that the company was fake.

“Reference is made to your letter dated 24 May 2021 in which you asked the Ministry to authorise the disbursement of US$50K from the Corporation’s Nostro account. We are unable to do as requested for the following reasons,” wrote Mangwana.

The contract does not provide any security guarantees for Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation in the event that Media Business Solutions fails to deliver the purchased product (football match content).

“The above is quite important as a quick check on the Media Business Solution’s profile does not give an assuring digital footprint. They don’t appear even to have a website. Their address, 14 Chertsey Road, working, England GU 21 5AH is a mail box service address which for practical legal reasons can’t be Domicillium citandi et executandi.

“The fact that this company uses this address for this contract raises a lot of questions about their bona fides. It is in light of the above that the Ministry is unable to concur to the registration of Media Business Solutions with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.”

US$50 000 dodgy deal exposed

An email sent to Rushwaya on 19 May 2021 at 10:58am by an agent of the controversial company showed that she communicated directly with the firm in stitching the
US$50 000 murky deal.

In the email, with subject “long form contract,” the agent says: “Hi Helliate, Please find attached the fully executed version (of contract)”.

On 16 June 2021, (1:28pm) an email by a ZBC official to Rushwaya seemed to show that she tried to push for the payment to be done despite the rejection of the deal by the Information Ministry and reservations by management of the national broadcaster.

Part of it reads: “Dear Helliate . . . May you kindly forward me the correspondence that came from the permanent secretary over this matter (I understand that he had raised issues to do with jurisdiction etc but cannot find any documentation to the effect.) It is going to be very difficult for us to honour such agreements due to the cash constrained environment that the enterprise finds itself. I also doubt that we are screening these matches due to the cost implications which are of a foreign currency nurture . . . .”

In her response the same day at 16:45pm, to her subordinate at ZBC, referenced “UEFA 2021- Payment notification,” she defended the US$50 000 payment despite misgivings by the Information Ministry.

Part of it reads: “Hi. I have forwarded the requested correspondence separately. The initial commitment for the rights was made after confirmation from ZBC Marketing that there was a sponsor on board for a total of US$65 000 and therefore a recoupment of the US$50 000 investment. Many thanks. Helliate.”

Online checks revealed that the company is indeed questionable as raised by Mangwana.
The company’s information is not detailed on a static page that shows when it is searched online. The page claims that the company registered under company number 09092833 in England and began operations on 19 June 2014 but does not provide contact details.

The static page also says the company’s business line is provision of “media representation services” but does not specify them or provide any graphic images or details.

In addition, there are no icons that lead one to its social media platforms which is normally the case with media companies.

Under Rushwaya’s tenure as Acting CEO, ZBC aired the Euro 2020 games, under a murky arrangement with an agent from sportswear company, Optima Sports based in the United Kingdom.

Rushwaya, who holds an MSc in international events management with a focus on broadcasting mega events, once worked in the UK at BBC Scotland. She was project manager for the host broadcaster of the Commonwealth Games 2014.

The broadcaster received several payment demands of US$20 000 from the agent, Eric Kabalata, after Rushwaya’s departure as CEO. Officials however say the payment details were unknown to them.

Management questions US$20k payment

Kabalata claimed that he had advanced ZBC US$20 000 during Rushwaya’s time as acting CEO in a deal to screen Euro 2020 games but did not provide proof of request for the money and also proof of the payment to the broadcaster.

One of the emails by Kabalata sent in April 2020 stated: “Dear ZBC team. Would you kindly provide response to our emails. There is no reply from you guys till now for us. We need to settle the pending issue asap.”

An official at ZBC confirmed the development.

“Following Helliate’s departure, ZBC started receiving payment demands from Kabalata, who claimed he had advanced ZBC the money for these (Euro 2020 broadcasting) rights, with US$20 000 still owed to him. When the new administration scrutinised the licensing costs, they found significant discrepancies compared to Kabalata’s claims. They requested supporting documents from Kabalata to understand the original deal,” said an official.

“In a surprising twist, Kabalata withdrew his demand, stating he had pursued other means for compensation. The identity and motives of this mysterious benefactor who seemingly settled ZBC’s debt remain unknown.”

The payments were supposed to be for the screening of Euro 2020 games on ZTV.
When contacted for comment by The NewsHawks, Kabalata refused to shed light on the matter, citing client confidentiality clauses.

“MBS does not discuss its dealings with its customers with third parties. I would implore you to get in touch with the ZBC management team to provide you with the information you seek as they are in better position to discuss this with you,” he wrote.

ZBC’s  response

Olinda Mkahlela, the ZBC spokesperson, said she could not comment on the matter because it has been escalated to the courts.

“The matter you are raising on Optma Sports is pending in the High Court, thus I cannot comment on a matter that is sub judice,” she said.

On the court case, Mkahlela referred additional questions to ZBC corporate secretary Patricia Muchengwa.

Contacted for comment, Muchengwa however would not reveal more, saying she was tied up in marathon committee meetings at the national broadcaster.

Fredius Dzumbunu, who at the time of investigation was the ZBC’s acting chief executive, standing in for Adelaite Chikunguru who was on annual leave, confirmed that the public broadcaster was dealing with some issues highlighted by The NewsHawks. Chikunguru has since been suspended by the Rushwaya-led board. Chikunguru subsequently resigned.

“In short, what I can I say is that these are legacy issues we are currently dealing with. I am still new, so I can’t enter much into intricacies of the matters,” he said.

In suspending Chikunguru, the Rushwaya board did not give reasons, but sources say there has been a fight between the two emanating from the legacy issues cited in this investigation. Chikunguru was investigating Rushwaya over the allegations.

Legacy issues haunt ZBC

Senior officials at the ZBC revealed the broadcaster was dealing with at least 20 legacy issues left unresolved during Rushwaya’s tenure as chief executive, including lack of records to substantiate creditors’ claims.

“While much attention has been paid to her connections with notable figures such as Martin Rushwaya, Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet, and Henrietta Rushwaya, a figure embroiled in controversy, and the President, there is a deeper and more concerning narrative that demands scrutiny,” an official told this publication.

“Beyond the web of relationships lies a pattern of actions and decisions within ZBC that raise serious questions about governance, ethical conduct, and financial management under her leadership.”

Reports show that as acting CEO (2020/2021) and a member of the content committee, Rushwaya influenced major content deals, some involving international trips and significant expenses, for example all-expenses-paid trips to resorts and fashion capitals like France, Paris where she secured soccer rights deals which would cost struggling ZBC millions in debt.

“During Rushwaya’s time as acting CEO and board member, ZBC accumulated substantial debt to international content producers, totalling approximately US$4 313 023. Rushwaya’s management led to a significant decline in ZBC’s financial health, culminating in insolvency and a negative bank balance. The broadcaster, under her leadership, became heavily reliant on external support, including vehicle donations secured through familial relations and substantial government grants for salary payments.

This dependency was further underscored by a ZW$40 million loan obtained from the ministry of Information to sustain operations,” said an inside source at ZBC.

Rushwaya also left a legacy of corporate governance abuses where the ZBC was red-flagged by the corporate governance unit.

There were issues of hefty loans in which the ZBC borrowed ZW$25 million from the Information ministry, a substantial amount at the time.

Procurement manipulation issues also hung over her,  amid reports she directly influenced procurement, violating Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe regulations. There was also an accumulated Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) debt in which the ZBC failed to pay Pay As You Earn, Value-Added Tax, and other taxes, leading to a garnishee order from Zimra.

A significant National Social Security Authority (Nssa) debt was accrued during her tenure after ZBC neglected Nssa obligations.

The ZBC also accrued unpaid utility bills of substantial amounts to TelOne and Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority Holdings, resulting in service shutdowns.

Employee welfare neglect was also rife as salaries delayed for up to three months while employees received only basic pay without allowances.

The ZBC depleted its fleet under Rushwaya’s tenure, with only six operational vehicles available, but they have now increased to over 60 after her tenure. There was also poor financial management emanating from lack of proper cashflow monitoring. Moreover, there were issues of imbalanced revenue-to-staff costs ratio: At one point, 80% of revenue was consumed by staff costs, leading to operational deficiencies.

Absence of efficient asset management was common as no asset register or revaluation of assets was done under Rushwaya’s tenure.

Lack of risk management was rampant as no strategies were in place to mitigate organisational risks. There was no retooling of essential equipment and furniture for employees during Rushwaya’s tenure which is an indication of bad corporate governance. The NewsHawks put forward its findings to Rushwaya via email after failing to reach her on voice calls and WhatsApp.

Emissary responds on behalf of Rushwaya

Former ZBC director of television services, Gilbert Nyambabvu, now based in the United Kingdom, replied, saying he had been asked by Rushwaya to respond on her behalf.

“Your questions were forwarded to me because I was Director TV at the time and, therefore, responsible for the content you refer to,” Nyambabvu said.

“I will respond only to issues with which I was involved. My recollection is that football rights agent MBS offered the UEFA Euro 2020 Finals. We felt this was good content for our viewers and an advertising sponsorship package was secured to cover the cost of procuring the rights so that there would be no loss to the Corporation.

“However, at the time, all foreign currency payments needed to be approved by the central bank as the exchange control authority. We were not granted approval for that foreign payment as a consequence of which the proposed content procurement was not progressed. This means there was no monetary loss to the Corporation.

“Regarding MBS ‘looking fake’; I’m aware that MBS were the southern Africa rights distributor for the Afcon Finals in Cote d’Ivoire which the Corporation, I believe, secured for its viewers. So, really why would MBS be a legitimate soccer rights agent this year if they were not legitimate in 2021?”

Nyambabvu said in the digital era, physical addresses of companies are immaterial.
“The point about the agent’s physical addresses is insignificant, in my view; there is no requirement that every business should have a physical office on Canary Wharf. One can run a multi-million-dollar enterprise from their private home. In any event, we are in the digital era, and the concept of space is not necessarily physical,” he said.

Nyambabvu agreed that Rushwaya left a legacy of debts, but said it was not her fault.
“The debts are historic. When she came they were already there. On the issue of equipment and retooling, she cannot be blamed because ZBC had no money to buy the equipment,” he said.

Nyambabvu said other findings by The NewsHawks are fabrications that could be coming from Rushwaya’s successors at ZBC.

“In terms of her failing to buy equipment and retooling, that blame must be placed on government because it is the one that must be funding ZBC since it takes almost 75 percent of its airplay at a time there are no advertisers.

“Local drama producers demand US$20 000 for 13-episode series and ZBC struggles to pay that money. What more when we talk of equipment. Where could she have gotten that money?” he asked. “I know she is human and may make mistakes but on these issues you raise which are almost 20, I want to strongly say she is innocent.”

This story was commissioned by Information for Development Trust (IDT) and published by Newshawks