An open letter to Iqbal Survé
Dear Doc Survé,
I am emotional, disgusted, frustrated; and mostly saddened, as I am writing to you today.
I have known you for many years, and as I always say to the people close to me, “I worked WITH Dr Survé, never FOR Dr Survé, since this is what you taught me over the years; To work together, to stand together, to inspire and to uplift the people around us, especially the youth and those not-so-privileged, the disabled, women and the abused.
Doc, I cannot be true to the values which you instilled in all of us who had the pleasure of working with you, if I don’t react on the recent attacks on you as a person, as well as against the companies you represent today, viz. the Sekunjalo Group and Independent Media. My only link with you today is that I am one of your 5000 FB friends.
I am a white, Afrikaans-speaking woman, a single mother of 4 beautiful daughters, facing many a challenge every day to take care of my family.
Please allow me the opportunity to share some of my experiences (and highlights in my career) with you:
I worked at Sake Rapport as an economics editor in the late 1990s, when I first met you.When you walked into my office in Doornfontein, I still had to write the market report, and finalize a couple of articles before my “deadline”. When I asked “Can I help you Sir”,
You kindly replied “Yes please, we would like to talk to a financial journalist; we are going to list on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange soon”.
A black company listing on the JSE was unheard of! This must be a story! And this is where our journey started.
You told me you were the CEO of a Black economic empowerment company, and that your company Sekunjalo had shares in Health and Racquet (today Virgin Active), that you owned a factory producing surgical needles and hospital equipment, as well as an investment in hospital IT systems, that you owned shares in a fishing company exporting lobsters and abalone to China and the USA....”.
I remember my reply: “So Dr Survé, are you going to list in the healthcare or food and beverage or tourism sector”? You laughed, “No, in the diversified industrial sector”.
You took out the Sekunjalo Prospectus for me to review. I must admit I was sceptical that someone could list a company in 18 months. I was wrong when you listed in May 1999 and was the youngest CEO of any diversified investment company on the JSE.
I know you have three degrees from UCT, including an MBA., you are a Harvard alumnus and have an academic Fellowship from the American College of Sports medicine, and I think you are the first black doctor to achieve that? I am not sure what all this fuss about Fellowships is when you already had one then. You also had the most impressive profile of any CEO I interviewed at the time as a senior journalist (nobody I knew at the time knew President Mandela and had a person as Professor Jakes Gerwel as Chairman!) When I asked you about your background, I remember you sitting opposite me, and passionately shared your journey, telling me: “it wasn’t easy to study to be a doctor”, that you had to sell the Cape Times and Argus (ironical isn’t it?) at the traffic light crossing close to Kenilworth Race-course and Kenilworth station where you grew up , that your dad couldn’t afford to pay for your studies and that bursaries were mostly available for white students and that you were only one of handful of black students out of a class of about 200 allowed to study at the all-white University of Cape Town medical school.
“So, why don’t you practice as a medical doctor anymore”? I asked. “Well there were no opportunities for black corporate business under apartheid, so many of us who are professionals had to heed the call from Madiba in 1997 to change the economy and have an impact on society in a bigger way than I could as a doctor ( President Nelson Mandela in 1997 made an impassioned plea for black professionals to enter the mainstream economy of South Africa to bring about meaningful transformation of the social and economic landscape in order to redress the economic legacy of apartheid) , I therefore decided to leave my love for medicine, and I started the Sekunjalo Group with other social activists”.
“I will always be a doctor, but I am concerned about the future of the people of South Africa that could not be qualified as a doctor or engineer, and I want to make a difference in the country I love. I want the poorest of the poor to achieve greatness in their own right”, you told me. You also told me about the many poor employees in Sekunjalo and that the reason for your listing is to allow THEM an opportunity to OWN shares and build companies and employ more people.
I asked: “What does Sekunjalo mean”? “Now is the time”, you replied as it was the famous song Madiba had jived to during the election campaign in 1994. Indeed Doc, it was the time, and you were there.
Doc, I was in your office and in your home in Rondebosch, where I saw many photographs with you and Madiba, from your time as a young doctor to the time of Sekunjalo’s listing and long there-after, some pictures with your children and others with you and Madiba (I even posted some of them on Facebook since the recent attack on you). I have personally seen many notes and books signed by Madiba to you. You mentioned to me once how Madiba laughed when you asked him to sign one specific book and the amazing pictures with Madiba and your (then) young children,Rayhaan and Saarah,
I was there when you launched the Memoirs of Ahmed Kathrada, supporting a thousand books for the schools (“so that the story of the struggle could be told as you put it”) introducing him to your friends in Sweden and elsewhere in the world, asking him to please support the launch of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, whom I know your children call “Uncle Kathy”.
When I contacted you on FB to ask why you don’t respond or ask Mr Kathrada to respond, you replied in a dignified way as only you could. You said “Adri, what they are doing to me is nothing compared to what Madiba and Kathy had to go through. Why should I dignify such nonsense by asking Kathy to respond? He has struggled enough having spent 27 years in prison. My struggle with these detractors is nothing compared to Kathy and Madiba’s suffering.”
Dr Survé, what most amazes me, is that the very same publications from Media24/Fin24 that now attacks your credibility, saluted you when the AHI awarded you as “Die Kaapse Sakekamer en die Burger Sakeleier van die Jaar” in 2007, I was there again, you quoted the Afrikaans poem from Van Wyk Louw, and had the people on their feet, all applauding you when you said “We must make sure that South Africa is in good hands” and that “South Africa needs to change”. More than 1 000 Afrikaner business men and women clocked around you afterwards, and praised you for your achievements.
I ask: What has changed? The answer is clear: The Star, Pretoria News, Cape Times, Cape Argus, The Mercury ..21 newspapers. You now became a competitor and someone with enormous influence over 7 million people daily.
It will be a very sad day if the plan is to control, or find a way, to destroy you, Dr Survé. Doc I am afraid, that as far as I can see – this is what is currently happening. I was asked by a journalist in 2011 (when I worked with you at Sekunjalo) to help with information to proof that “Iqbal is corrupt” ... I will go to court with this statement.
Doc, please don’t give up. Please tell your story. Please publish your book, your legacy.
You Doc invested millions in the Survé Family Foundation, where you paid for the educations of hundreds of students, artists and struggling entrepreneurs;
In 2011 you asked me to assist the team at The Business Place iKapa, where thousands of young entrepreneurs were supported in their ventures. It was so successful that the City of Cape Town formed a joint venture agreement with you and launched “Cape Town Activa”, with you as Chairman.
When I interviewed you after Sekunjalo was listed on the JSE, a young women called “Cherie” was your secretary. Today, the very same Cherie, is a executive director and serves on the boards of many companies. The many workers that went from the factory floor to managers in your companies are your legacy.
Doc Survé, I am writing to you, out of respect. I have to ask, no, challenge, Corporate South Africa, to introduce to me ANY CEO that that started with R250 000, and grew that it to a portfolio of 189 investments and a net asset value today worth billions in 15 years. Doc you are the untold story and if you were white you would have received many accolades and doctorates by now.
Don’t give up. Dr Survé, I know that you can take South Africa forward;
With you in your journey for a better South Africa .
As always, my best wishes to you and your family.