TELECOMMUNICATIONS magnate, Strive Masiyiwa is girding for a bruising legal battle with President Robert Mugabe’s administration after a decision by the authorities to cancel Econet’s television broadcasting partner’s licence last week.
BY RICHARD CHIDZA
The government last week withdrew the licence issued to Dr Dish, a private player, which had gone into a partnership with content provider, Masiyiwa’s Econet Media-owned Kwese TV.
In an 11-page letter to the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ), lawyer and Masiyiwa’s close associate, Tawanda Nyambirai, laid down the gauntlet, effectively declaring a fight between Masiyiwa and government backed South African satellite broadcaster, DStv owned by MultiChoice.
He said DStv currently had a monopoly over satellite television broadcasting in Zimbabwe.
“For as long as they have operated in Zimbabwe, DStv has exploited the Zimbabwean consumer by charging a huge premium to Zimbabwean customers compared to what they charge in South Africa,” Nyambirai wrote.
“According to the 2017 monetary policy presented by RBZ (Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe) governor (John Mangudya), DStv subscriptions and card payments, at $206,66 million, were the second major driver of foreign currency drain in Zimbabwe.
“On the contrary, Kwese content by Econet Media is much cheaper.”
He said DStv had made “radical reductions” in pricing on the possibility of Kwese coming into Zimbabwe.
The letter also highlighted DStv’s troubles with the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, where the South African company “has been in court with Zimra over its refusal to charge for and remit value-added tax”.
In response, BAZ, according to Nyambirai, said it was ready for the legal war.
“They have just responded telling us that ‘if your client is aggrieved they can go to court’.
“We are likely to file a High Court application today (yesterday),” he said.
High-level sources within Kwese chronicled the problems that triggered the stand-off, reminiscent of the 1990s fight between the government and Masiyiwa’s Econet Wireless, again over a licence.
“The issue is bigger and government is playing politics with Masiyiwa again.
“Kwese had been in negotiations with (government-owned) Zimbabwe Newspapers Television with a possibility of using their licence to create the platform for content distribution in the country,” a source said.
Nyambirai continued: “Curiously, when speculative reports broke in the media that Kwese TV had been licensed in Zimbabwe, Zimpapers, one of the prospective partners that Econet Media was in negotiations with, but failed to agree on commercial terms, renewed its interest in the partnership with Econet Media.”
He said ZBC also approached Econet Media “for provision of some of its exclusive sports content”.
Nyambirai said BAZ chief executive officer, Obert Muganyura had no power to cancel a licence, warning that he could be sued in his personal capacity for abuse of authority.
The BAZ board, Nyambirai argued, had not met and given Muganyura authority to cancel Dr Dish’s licence for which Econet Media had paid outstanding dues four days before the “purported cancellation”.
“While Econet Media Mauritius is finalising formalities relating to its investment in Zimbabwe as a content provider and its offering to cushion Zimbabwean consumers from the foreign currency shortages, Econet’s Kwese TV proceeded to release the money needed for the payment of the arrears and current licence fees.
“The payment was effected on August 18, 2017,” the letter said.
BAZ then wrote on August 22 allegedly in response to a Dr Dish letter to the authority written in October 2016.
Dr Dish was responding to a request from BAZ to show cause why its licence should not have been cancelled given the withdrawal of then content provider, My Africa. Nyambirai noted that BAZ had been notified of the change in content provider.
Dr Dish, through Nyambirai, also threatened to approach the Constitutional Court seeking an order to force BAZ to make public details of the relationship between Transmedia and MultiChoice.