Zimbabwe is faced with a critical newsprint shortage which threatens to derail the newspaper business four months before the
country’s elections, writes Gugu Ziyaphaha.

Mutare Board and Paper Mills (MBPM), the country’s sole newsprint manufacturer, told a high-powered government delegation that the newsprint shortage will worsen unless the supply of foreign currency, fuel, coal and electricity is guaranteed.

The newsprint shortage has hit Zimpapers hard, which publishes The Herald, the Chronicle, The Manica Post, Kwayedza, The Sunday News, uMthunywa, Southern Times, Trends, Zimbabwe Travel, and New Farmer.

The publisher also has a commercial printing division, made up of BoldAds, Typocrafters and NatPrint which prints telephone directories among other products.

Private business papers have been forced to drastically curtail the use of their trademark pink paper.

The crisis forced Information Minister, Sikhanyiso Ndhlovu, his deputy, Bright Matonga, permanent secretary George Charamba and Zimpapers CEO, Justin Mutasa to travel to Mutare, 300km from the capital, Harare, for an urgent meeting with the senior management of ART Corporation, which owns MBPM.

ART Corporation CEO, Richard Zirobwa told the government officials that the company can not cope with the current demands from private and state media houses.

"We need at least US$550 000 every month for the necessary inputs and we do not have that kind of money," said Zirobwa.

Since MBPM threatened to cut the supply of newsprint to the cash-strapped Zimpapers over non-payment, government accuses MBPM of sabotage because it was now allocating newsprint to the private publishers ahead of the state publisher.

Zimpapers has been forced to drastically reduce its newspaper circulation recently, and printing has had to be delayed owing to shortages and the late delivery of newsprint.

Because of the newsprint and ink shortages, The Financial Gazette, a business weekly which is pink in colour, has had to publish only its cover in pink and the inside pages in white.

Another leading weekly, The Independent which prints its Business Digest supplement in pink, is now printing it in white.

Ndhlovu pledged government’s support in order to help the company to alleviate the shortages. He said: “The shortage of newsprint is killing the newspaper industry. We are in a serious crisis and the public is asking questions, Newsprint production is a strategic industry, strategic for national security and communication.”