Independent Media here for the long haul, we're here to tell the truth
Opinion / 24 November 2019, 08:38am / Ayanda Mdluli
The days of black professionals, especially in the South African media, taking whippings lying down from those who are opposed to transformation and black ownership in the sector should have died in 1994, when Nelson Mandela became the president of South Africa.
Sadly, the remnants of those dark days are still among us and, as we have unpacked, the cancer of institutionalised racism has continued to eat away at the heart of the South African media industry.
This cancer has become so widespread that Independent Media has become the subject of much demonisation from our colleagues and competitors who will stop at nothing to destroy a company that employs more than 1500 people and the rest of the subsidiaries which employs tens of thousands.
Some are former employees, who left under circumstances that would not look good on any CV, some are competitors posturing through the poison pens of their journalists and some, dare we say it, harbour a more sinister motive. Their egregious claims and wilful snipes have ranged from blatant mistruths to selective amnesia.
In this five-part series, senior journalist Ayanda Mdluli unpacks the lies, fake news, curious claims and motives of writers Ferial Haffajee, Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya, Alide Dasnois, Chris Whitfield and Dougie Oakes.
Here is the truth about those who refuse to accept the transformation of the South African media.
Ferial Haffajee, City Press former editor and a current associate editor at website the Daily Maverick, has taken it upon herself to take up the cudgels for some former Independent Media employees who present self-serving versions of the circumstances of their departure.
Missing from her selective narrative are the facts about Independent Media, most significantly that since the sale of Independent Media to Sekunjalo, the business has been transformed from 90% white management and ownership to 80% black.
At Independent Media, black skills and journalists continue to win local and international awards. They prosper knowing that they have the freedom to be innovative and explore.
It is true that some black journalists and editors,such as Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya, parted ways with Sekunjalo.
First, Haffajee in her opinion piece omits that Media24 apparently fired Moya for incompetence when he was editor of the Natal Witness in Pietermaritzburg. He then came knocking on the door of Independent Media and was appointed as editor at The Mercury.
However, I also learnt that management raised concerns about his underperformance at The Mercury. He appealed to Dr Iqbal Survé, who then intervened and gave him the Pretoria News Weekend editor job.
According to his former colleagues at the Pretoria News, he once again failed to perform and he eventually agreed to leave the group.
Others, like former Independent employee Dougie Oakes, also spew bile on social media about Survé and the company.
Oakes was another unemployed journalist who approached Survé for a job. He was appointed in a senior position at the Cape Times where he clashed repeatedly with the editor, Aneez Salie. Survé intervened and asked that he be moved to the politics unit. He was said to be perfectly happy in this position until he reached retirement age, the then chief operations officer of Independent Media, Howard Plaatjies, informed him that he needed to retire, since it was time to create a space for younger talent, and denied Oakes’ request to stay on.
While Survé had nothing to do with Moyo’s or Oakes’ departures, he is nevertheless used as a scapegoat for all their personal bitterness and disillusionment.
In her article, Haffajee rejects the notion of Survé as a moral leader.
What is moral leadership? Is it someone who puts the bottom line first before people, or someone, who, like Survé, puts his people first?
Let us look at Haffajee’s tenure at City Press. It is well known that young African journalists at City Press revolted against Haffajee calling her racist, anti-black and anti-African. See City Press editor takes leave amid race row.
Far from promoting black talent, morale in the news room suffered under Haffajee.
Independent Media, like other media houses, has been affected by a tough economy and change in media environment. But instead of wholesale retrenchment Survé has taken a different tack. Survé and Sekunjalo have put in the operational liquidity to keep Independent Media and its people employed. This should be lauded not attacked.
Haffajee has joined the chorus who unashamedly recycle false information, writing that SIM owes the PIC more than a R1 billion.
The truth is that Sekunjalo Independent Media (SIM), the special purpose consortium vehicle of more than 30 black women, union, employee and NGO groupings, borrowed R580 million from the PIC. SIM has repaid R380m, with the remainder of R200m converted into shares. The company does not owe R2 billion.
Looking at Sekunjalo Group’s financials and its three public companies over the last three years, their cumulative profitability, has exceeded hundreds of millions. The group employs 11 500 people and indirectly 25 000 people in associated companies.
Perhaps Haffajee and cohorts can provide us with evidence of this crumbling empire?
But, then, Haffajee’s vision has been somewhat clouded of late. She spends much time with Heather Sonn, who is now the chairperson of the disgraced and crumbling Steinhoff International, where billions of pensioners’ money has been lost. More than R23bn to be specific. Perhaps it is Haffajee who needs to take stock of her own moral compass and biased fact checking.
Haffajee writes Ayo Technology Solutions is claimed by Survé to be a unicorn. False.
Sagarmatha was to have been Africa’s first unicorn. But, like many, Haffajee conflates different companies into one and what emerges is a twisted narrative. At least had Sagarmatha listed, it would have kept the money here on the African continent, unlike Naspers, which recently invested R1.3 trillion offshore. Where was Haffajee’s voice during this saga?
Haffajee claims that without access to the PIC money, it is over for Survé. Not sure how this will happen given that the records show that neither Survé, in his personal capacity nor Sekunjalo Investment Holdings, owe the PIC anything.
Sekunjalo is one of a handful of large companies with no debt and a strong cash position. It is Sekunjalo that has funded Independent since 2013 - not the PIC, as Haffejee claims.
As for Survé retreating, perhaps Haffajee can provide evidence of that. She and her masters repeatedly write fake news about Survé and use resources to attack him and his business, hoping he will disappear so that they can take control of the narrative.
If Independent Media were to close its doors, it would be because a small minority remain closed to an alternative viewpoint. This would also see nearly 1 500 people and their families affected - something which Survé, his executives and every single person at Independent Media refuse to let happen. We are here for the long haul. We are here to tell the truth whether Haffajee and others like it or not.