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End of the road for Qhawe?

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MBABANE - He claimed to have once travelled from Swazi-land to Mauritius without a passport in the early 2000s.

That was Qhawe Mamba at the height of his reign as ‘king’ of the Swaziland television industry.

At the time he was the Director of the Swaziland Television Authority’s Outside Broadcasting Unit and also the Managing Director of his own private TV station, Channel Swazi.

When recounting how he successfully travelled from Swaziland through South Africa and on to Mauritius without a passport, Qhawe said it was not as difficult for some-one in his position as one would expect.

He was part of the team that was travelling ahead of His Majesty King Mswati III, who was to join them in the Indian Ocean Island a few days later.

Qhawe said he forgot his diplomatic passport at the bank because he was rushing to the Matsapha International Airport.

He said the passport was issued with an accompanying letter and on this particular trip, he found himself with only the letter and no passport.

Mamba said it was easy to convince the officials at the Matsapha airport to let him board the plane to the Oliver Tambo International Airport.

Grab

He said at the South African and Mauritius airports he had to grab a Cabinet minister who was also on the same flight to vouch for him that he was, indeed, one of the ‘King’s men’ and was on official government business albeit sans passport. He was able to make it all the way to Mauritius and back.

That was vintage Qhawe for you. He did things his own way and nothing or no one could stop him – until now.

He claimed to have spent some time with King Mswati III as young boys growing up. When the King ascended to the throne in 1986, Qhawe had been with Swazi TV for a few years.

He was later to start covering the royal family’s activities and when the public broadcaster purchased the OB Unit, he was the obvious candidate to head it.

In-between covering royal and cultural activities, Qhawe and his team also produced some programmes for Swazi TV which would change the face of Swazi television forever. They produced programmes like ‘Lets phucukarize’, ‘Business Forum’ and ‘Siyakudvumusa’ to mention only three.

It was during this time that Swazi TV started covering all official royal trips abroad and they were all covered by Qhawe.

While busy with all this, he was also trying his hand at business. He once owned a restaurant at the Swazi Plaza. For a while, he also had a car rental company and there was a time when he ran a small trucking company.

In the years to come, Qhawe would later form a number of companies with various partners which specialised in his greatest love – television production.

The first company was called Mass Media for Africa (MMA) which he initially co-directed with his then wife, Hlobisile Ndlovu.

MMA was succeeded by Ultimate Television Productions (Ultipro) and later Juoz Media.

He ran all these companies while still in the employ of Swazi TV and some of them actually produced and sold content to the public broadcaster.

Over the years there were numerous parliamentary probes into Swazi TV which always raised questions about the relationship between Qhawe, his companies and Swazi TV.

He, however, always seemed untouchable for nothing ever came of the findings of the probes.

A forensic audit by Ndallahwa and Company in 2008 recommended that Swazi TV take Qhawe to court to compel him to pay back money he had allegedly not retired upon returning from an intenational royal assignment.

In 2001 Qhawe broke new ground when he opened his own digital satellite TV station, Channel Swazi. The station was launched on Thursday, March 29, 2001 in a function that was attended by the Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini.

While on satellite, Channel S’ broadcast studio was in Johannesburg and daily news bulletins shot and edited in the country were driven to South Africa every day. This, Qhawe seemed to do with ease; ‘sharing the Swazi culture with Africa’, that is.

About a year later, Channel Swazi went terrestrial and moved its broadcast studio into the country. Transmitting for a while at Mnyamatsini, it later broadcasted from the production studio and Mbandzeni House before moving to Thembelihle for a few months. It later relocated to Manzini at the then Tiger City building, which was to be the station’s home for the next five years.

Looking back, the tide seems to have started turning against Qhawe in 2005 after the Job Creation Summit where a E1.6 billion fund to create employment was establis- hed.

Within months of its establishment, it was found that E50 million of the fund, which was meant for capacity building, had allegedly been looted by various businesspeople and government officials. Qhawe was implicated as per the recommendations of a commission of inquiry headed by the late Thulani Masina.

He was arrested in January 2007 and charged with corruption and fraud.

He spent a few nights in custody before being released on bail.

Investigated

While he was still being investigated for his role in the E50 million scandal, the management of Swazi TV fired him in August 2006 for allegedly failing to submit a camera worth E3 600, which he was believed to have purchased during one of his trips abroad using state funds.

Towards the end of 2007, Qhawe established the Channel S Club, which was adjudged to be a pyramid scheme by the Central Bank. By the time the Central Bank intervened, the club had collected about E17 million from members of the public.

While battling a fresh investigation with threats of possible criminal charges, Qhawe tried to sell the TV station to South African gospel artist, Sipho Makhabane in November 2009, but the deal fell through after Qhawe allegedly failed to hand over the licence to Makhabane. While the sale was being finalised, Qhawe temporarily moved to South Africa, but when the transaction failed he had to come back to run the station.

The TV station briefly stopped broadcasting for about six months after the Central Bank seized all the broadcasting equipment from his studio in one of the backrooms at his home in Nkoyoyo outside Mbabane. A few months later, the station was back on air again broadcasting from Manzini, but to a smaller audience.

Fraud

 

In July this year, the High Court found him guilty of the E17 million fraud and money laundering charges related to the Channel S Club and sentenced him to eight years imprisonment. Four years of the sentence were, however, suspended. He appealed, but the Supreme Court turned him down and on Friday he was a pale shadow of the confident Qhawe that the nation had come to love and hate over the years.

The question on everyone’s mind is; could this really be the end of Qhawe Mamba?


COMMENTS:

- The Bible got it right, what you plant-you shall reap.
December 3, 2012, 5:01 pm, Bongani Khumalo

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