On November 25 The Mercury along with the other Independent titles published a lengthy comment on allegations circulating in other media concerning the ownership and management of Independent Media.
The claims and assertions made in that comment might have credibility if we lived in a closed society. But access to numerous other sources facilitates objectivity and, consequently, brings credibility into question.
The first aspect concerns the attempt to justify changes in Independent Media in terms of “transformation.” But that is a red herring. For from the outset the new owner of Independent Media, Dr Iqbal Surve, made it very clear that it was nothing less than political capture. On April 5, 2013, as reported in Business Report two days later, in a phone call to Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Surve said: “Tell Madiba, Independent’s coming home.” In other words, Independent Media is ANC aligned which is obvious, anyway, from the generous and extensive coverage given to ANC history and statements, regardless of their newsworthiness or credibility.
So, when Surve speaks about “transformation,” it has everything to do with imposing a political agenda which he fast-tracked by retrenching scores of journalists whose professionalism got in the way of his agenda to ingratiate himself with the ANC. The resignation of competent black editors such as Philani Mgwaba, Ellis Mnyandu and Moshoeshoe Monare from Independent titles as a result of Surve’s political agenda substantiates that point.
The second aspect of credibility concerns Surve’s ongoing mantra about why Alide Dasnois was removed as editor of the Cape Times. He insisted that she disrespected the death of Nelson Mandela in December 2013 by not having it as front-page news and instead presenting it as a wrap-around feature. What the November 25 comment omits to mention, is that in the settlement between himself and Dasnois, he retracted his accusations of racism against her and accepted that in her decision on how to cover Mandela’s death, she had not intended to disrespect the former President.
The third aspect of credibility concerns the financial state of Independent Media and its owner, Sekunjalo. The claim that it is in “a strong cash position” does not square with the facts. In June 2017, its losses stood at R752 million. As regards the position of Sekunjalo with the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), Surve undertook to settle his debt with the PIC through a share swap from his much-touted Sagarmatha Technologies. The transaction was conditional on the listing of Sagarmatha on the JSE. But that never happened because Sagarmatha was unable to submit the required CPIC financial statements as to its functioning and, therefore, remains unlisted.
The issue involving the write-off of the PIC loan of over R1 billion to Sekunjalo by the then PIC CEO, Dan Matjila, is also in dispute as the PIC Board did not approve it. Nor do the majority of pensioners of the GEPF whose funds were disposed of in that fashion.
Therefore, it is of great concern that the historic newspapers of the Independent stable have become the fiefdom of one man and a battle zone of his business interests.
The letter to the Sekunjalo-owned Mercury was not published,.