By Ed Herbst

Finally we have some radical economic transformation — even if it’s in the form of a Covid-19-induced blowout — and where are the horsemen of the radical economic transformation (RET) movement? Nowhere to be seen, as luck would have it.

Instead, who do we see riding to the rescue, saddlebags weighed down by weighty cheques: the supposed agents of white monopoly capital (WMC).

The elusive radical economic transformation donors Rob Rose  2/4/2020

On 23 March South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a countrywide, three-week, COVID-19 lockdown and noted with approval that the Rupert and Oppenheimer families had immediately offered a billion rand each to ameliorate the financial impact of the lockdown:

“In this regard, we must applaud the commitment made in this time of crisis by the Rupert and Oppenheimer families of R1 billion each to assist small businesses and their employees affected by the coronavirus pandemic.”

Five days later, Patrice Motsepe followed the example of the Rupert and Oppenheimer families

Then the fund was swelled by an additional R1.5 billion Naspers donation.

Then the Oppenheimer family, added another billion to the Covid-19 emergency fund

There has, however, been no charitable offer of an equivalent amount from Iqbal Survé, the owner of the largest group of English newspapers in the country and a vehement critic of white-owned companies in South Africa.

Although Survé is not listed among the top two dozen South African billionaires he did claim that status when he verbally abused the former Cape Times  editor Alide Dasnois in a trumped-up disciplinary hearing against her in 2013.

Dodgy tender scandal

He promised to use his ‘billions’ to destroy her reputation and future employment prospects  and she was dismissed despite the fact that she led a team which produced an obituary tribute to Nelson Mandela which Time rated as one of the best in the world. Her crime was to publish a factual article about a scandal involving one of his companies, Premier Fishing, which had been embroiled in a dodgy tender scandal.

Survé, who, in February last year, spent almost R140m on seven luxury V&A Waterfront apartments in Cape Town, has been placed in an invidious position by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Although he claims to be a billionaire philanthropist who wants to ‘change the world’, his philanthropy does not extend to the country’s almost two million government employees and current civil service pensioners.

He is refusing to repay a billion rand loan from the Public Investment Corporation which invests civil service pension funds. It enabled him to buy the biggest group of English newspapers in the country in 2013. He nevertheless acknowledged at the Mpati commission into systemic malfeasance at the PIC that, while he was refusing to pay back the PIC loan, he was servicing the interest on loans from the Chinese companies whose share purchases helped him buy the former Argus Group newspapers which he renamed Sekunjalo Independent Media.

He cannot match the donations by the Ruperts, the Oppenheimers, the Motsepes and Naspers – even if he wanted to – without repaying his PIC loan which, with accumulated interest, now totals well in excess of a billion rand.

On 4 April, Survé announced that his technically-insolvent Sekunjalo Independent Media company was cutting the salaries of all his news staff. At the end of this month, senior journalists will receive only 55% of their expected salaries. They will be desperate to leave a discredited company which has already lost more than a hundred of its most accomplished news staff including more than two dozen at editor level.

Furthermore, all freelance columnists, some of whom have been writing for Independent Media newspapers for decades, have been told that there is no money to pay them – yet another loss to readers who have steadily diminished in numbers since 2013.

Vanity project

What staff find unacceptable is that three weeks ago Survé announced a R200 million vanity project clearly designed to distract attention from the fact that Sekunjalo is facing liquidation and that he is being investigated by the Financial Sector Conduct Authority for alleged share price manipulation, a contravention of the Financial Management Act which potentially carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison, a maximum fine of R50 million or both.

With liquidation looming, Survé is frantically shuffling his PIC-derived billions through numerous family-linked companies in an effort to avoid the inevitable.

Iqbal Survé has never hidden his antipathy towards white people. During a speech on the campus of the University of Cape Town in support of the Fees Must Fall activists on 7 April 2015, he called for a purge of all white staff and he put that into practice at the Cape Times, driving out its senior news staff. This persecution of his white personnel is described in detail in the book Paper Tiger by two of his former editors, Alide Dasnois and Chris Whitfield and in an online article by Dougie Oakes, the former political editor of the Cape Times. Survé has not disputed the veracity of these articles or sued for defamation.

Furthermore, in his opening testimony at the Mpati Commission, he used the word ‘barbarians’ to describe rival media companies such as Naspers and attacked white-owned companies, earning a sharp rebuke from one of the commissioners, former Reserve Bank Governor, Gill Marcus.

The commission’s condemnation of him and his wealth facilitator, the former CEO of the PIC, Daniel Matjila, was excoriating – see here and here  and here.

One of the country’s leading financial journalists, Ann Crotty described the link between Matjila and Survé, between the PIC and Sekunjalo, as a ‘bizarre, value-destroying relationship’.

Shameless front page lies

This is not how the Mpati Commission report is being reflected in Survé’s newspapers where, in one shameless front-page lie after another, readers are told that the report completely exonerated both of them and that Matjila was owed a ‘media apology’.

In February, one of Survé’s reporters, Ayanda Mdluli, published an article headlined Just like the Nazis, De Klerk and his co-conspirators should be brought to justice for apartheid.  In the article  he called for  former South African president and Nobel laureate, F W de Klerk, to face a Nuremberg-type trial and subsequent execution for the role he played in South African politics prior to 1994 when, with Nelson Mandela, he facilitated the country’s transition to a universal suffrage democracy.

In another article Mdluli lashed out at the Oppenheimers, seemingly unaware or indifferent to the esteem in which Harry Oppenheimer was held by Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.

Mdluli has even attacked Johann Rupert about his Covid-19 donation without, obviously, mentioning the fact that his employer has not contributed a cent towards the Covid-19 relief fund.

Survé, who had previously supported the Zuma faction of the ANC, has now aligned his newspapers with Julius Malema whose antipathy towards whites and Indians is a matter of repeated record. Sekunjalo is also waging a relentless media war against President Cyril Ramaphosa and Public Enterprises Minister, Pravin Gordhan – the reformist faction within the ANC.

Given the ethnic antipathies which are openly expressed with his imprimatur in his newspapers such as the Cape Times and the plummeting circulation of all his newspapers, there is likely to be little or no advantage in white-owned and, in particular, Afrikaans companies advertising in them – still less for companies which support President Ramaphosa’s reformist policies.

In the meantime, an obvious question remains unanswered – Iqbal Survé’s newspapers are, predictably, giving saturation coverage to his views on the pandemic – see here and here and here – but where is his Covid-19 donation?