Johannesburg - Ownership of Independent News & Media South Africa (INMSA), which publishes titles including Business Report, The Star, The Mercury, The Cape Times and IOL, has officially moved to Sekunjalo Independent Media Consortium, ending nearly two decades of Irish control and opening a new chapter in the South African media landscape.
Iqbal Survé, the chairman of Sekunjalo Media, took over the reins of Africa’s largest newspaper group in a handover that saw Vincent Crowley, the chief executive of Dublin-based Independent News & Media (INM), fly into South Africa yesterday to wish Sekunjalo Media, INMSA management and staff a bright future ahead.
Sekunjalo Media bought INMSA for R2 billion in a deal that promises to inject new life into the group and underpin transformation. For years now, INMSA has been shackled by a lack of investment and cost cutting as its Irish owners siphoned off profits.
“I wanted to bring this asset back home. It is a South African asset. It should never have gone overseas,” Survé told Business Report yesterday in his first interview since the official closing of the deal last week.
“The purchase of INMSA is also important for Africa because our links are not just South African, they are African,” he said.
The sale process took nearly 18 months, during which the Irish weighed several expressions of interests from mainly South African entities, but in the end the Sekunjalo-led consortium emerged as the winner.
Survé, who served as a physician to anti-apartheid struggle heroes, including Nelson Mandela before his release from jail, said one of the reasons he wanted to buy INMSA was because South Africa’s media landscape was still untransformed, especially in ownership.
Excluding holdings by pension funds and investments by the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), black ownership in South Africa’s media remained trivial, Survé said. The PIC has a 19.2 percent interest in Times Media Group and 17.22 percent in Media24 parent Naspers.
Sekunjalo Media’s acquisition of INMSA, he said, was opening a new chapter in broadening media ownership to reflect the country’s demographics and give a platform to a “multiplicity of voices”.
“Never in the history of this country has a media asset been 100 percent owned by black people. It’s never been done in 20 years of democracy,” Survé said. “If you look at statistics, our competitors have got no black empowerment shareholding practically, for all intents and purposes.”
Survé added: “They are not transformed. They are now going to be dealing with a competitor that is transformed, a competitor where the surplus profits will be retained in South Africa, which is a direct business issue for them. So they had to create a lot of issues around this deal.”
His pursuit of INMSA was punctuated by intense scrutiny by rivals and critics on issues around the funding structure for the purchase and how he intended to protect INMSA’s journalistic independence – an issue that arose from his history and a perceived closeness to the political establishment.
But during the interview, Survé sought to dispel any notion that he was carrying someone’s water.
“I am fiercely independent. And that’s what they [rivals] fear the most. I am not a front for anybody. I have my own capital base,” Survé said.
He said the criticism he had faced while stitching the deal together was meant to derail the purchase and cripple INMSA’s future prospects.
“Do I have to apologise for fighting apartheid and being part of the Struggle? Why must I hide my history, why must I hide who I am? It’s absurd. Does that mean I am politically connected because I’ve come out of the Struggle in this country? That means the majority of South Africans that fought apartheid should not be given opportunities to participate in our future economy. It is absolutely absurd.”
Asked what would be among his first tasks, now having taken control, Survé said it was to get to know staff well and reassure them that they were now part of “making history”. Survé, who has set aside a 10 percent stake in the business for staff, said INMSA remained a profitable business, a fact he said that a lot of people missed due to the constraints that the Irish had put on the business and the failure to distinguish between the challenges faced by INM in Ireland and opportunities for INMSA.
“People did not know what the fundamentals of INMSA were,” he said.
Looking ahead, Survé said: “I think the cornerstone of what we need to do is to have good journalism, create a future for journalists in this country.
“I would like to believe that management has the freedom to think creatively under the leadership of Sekunjalo, to explore ideas, think about new ways of doing things, think about expanding titles, going into vernacular titles, strengthening our existing titles, putting up more titles to compete with some of our competitors, modernising our digital platforms and looking at various other areas,” he added. - Business Report