Southern Times becomes 'regional baby'

NamZim is to be dissolved and the newspaper transformed into a SADC mouthpiece, even though workers have been told to pack up.

30 April 2019 | Africa

The executive director in the information ministry (MICT) Mbeuta Ua-Ndjarakana says the Southern Times newspaper will be transformed into a multi-lateral regional mouthpiece for the 16-member SADC.

Ua-Ndjarakana said the original owners of the newspaper – the Namibian and Zimbabwean governments under the NamZim company – felt the “impact” made by the newspaper makes it “worth sharing” with the other SADC member states.

“It is no longer a Namibian/Zimbabwean baby; it is now a SADC baby,” Ua-Ndjarakana said.

He said the idea for greater SADC member states' participation in the newspaper was first broached at an SADC ICT ministers meeting in Durban in 2017.

There the Southern Times newspaper was endorsed as a mouthpiece of SADC summits and it was decided to transform the newspaper into a regional initiative in which all member states would join in.

This was later discussed at the Council of Ministers for SADC, which then made a recommendation to the regional body where it was endorsed.

“The recommendation is now with the SADC Secretariat which has to decide how to go about creating the Southern Times SADC mouthpiece and how member states can contribute. It is no longer our entity,” Ua-Ndjarakana said.

The secretariat will discuss this matter further on 17 April, Ua-Ndjarakana said.

Board chairperson of the Southern Times, Franna Kavari, said information minister Stanley Simataa and his Zimbabwean counterpart, Minister Monica Mutsvangwa, met on 29 March where they reviewed the agreement signed by the two countries about 15 years ago.

Kavari said one of the decisions made was that the NamZim company be dissolved to ensure that Namibia and Zimbabwe “pay full attention to the growth of the Southern Times newspaper as a SADC project”.

“[If] information pertaining to development of SADC states is left to efforts of individual countries the vital information on regional development as a whole may inevitably not reach the greater SADC region,” Kavari said.

Ua-Ndjarakana denied allegations that the Zimbabwean government has not sufficiently contributed to the bi-lateral arrangement during the 15 years the newspaper has been in existence.

A source at the newspaper said the Namibian government over the years has contributed about N$100 million while the Zimbabwean government begrudgingly only contributed N$20 million, while the Zimbabweans for all intents and purposes retained control over the newspaper.

Ua-Ndjarakana would not say how much each government has contributed, but was at pains to point out that the Zimbabweans have contributed in kind by providing human resource and technical capacities.

“It was an agreed format of the contributions among the bi-laterals. To say that Zimbabwe did not contribute is not correct. The Zimbabweans have done all sorts of contributions within their means,” Ua-Ndjarakana said.

Staff at the Windhoek office speaking on condition of anonymity said they were for the first time informed on Tuesday, 23 April that that weekend's edition would be the last and that they would have to get ready to pack up and go.

They were unsure of what their future at the newspaper will be.

“We were given assurances that the board of directors will follow the law and give us what is due to us,” one said.

Ua-Ndjarakana said it is “anticipated” that the staff will be “absorbed” into the national bureau of the regional news centre the Southern Times is to become.

Kavari added: “In essence, the Southern Times newspaper has as yet not closed for business. The necessary modalities and strategies are being honed to allow the two countries to facilitate the joining of the rest of the SADC member countries and thus the timeframe within which this is to happen has not been determined.”

She said the requisite laws pertaining to the dissolution of the company and the termination of employment contracts are naturally to follow due processes “as and when the necessary assessment has been made as to how many staff members to retain or deploy for the SADC project and how many to release”.



CATHERINE SASMAN

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