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Media capture vs media freedom: the two sides of the Ramaphosa administration’s media coin

In one scenario, if a media house speaks truth to power its owners are punished while in another, a media house toes the line and is rewarded with a majority stake in South Africa’s national airline.

In one scenario, if a media house speaks truth to power its owners are punished while in another, a media house toes the line and is rewarded with a majority stake in South Africa’s national airline.

Published May 18, 2022

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Sizwe Dlamini

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HAS the truth been sold for R51?

The question of whether media freedom truly exists in South Africa is one that cannot be answered conclusively when one considers the recent events involving Independent Media and the banks.

The truth of the matter is that Independent Media’s troubles stretch beyond the banks, right to the Office of the Presidency.

In one scenario, if a media house speaks truth to power its owners are punished while in another, a media house toes the line and is rewarded with a majority stake in South Africa’s national airline.

Maybe one of the reasons why this is happening, is that when Independent Media’s executive chairman, Dr Iqbal Survé, had the opportunity to actually come on side after a meeting between the editor of The Star and the Presidency, he declined to partake in what was effectively, attempted media capture by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration.

The editor of The Star newspaper, Sifiso Mahlangu, when asked about his title exposing Ramaphosa’s administration’s various shortcomings and dealings, said he was contacted by a Cabinet minister a while ago and was asked to stop publishing negative news about the administration, in exchange for advertising support from the administration.

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Mahlangu informed Independent Media’s executive chairman, Dr Iqbal Survé, who outright declined the ‘offer’, saying: “Firstly, as a media house we have a duty to report the facts and that we cannot be influenced by any politician in exchange for favours.

“This would be wrong and against the values of the Constitution.”

Soon after this engagement, Sekunjalo and Independent Media found themselves victims of an orchestrated and choreographed smear campaign by detractors of Independent Media, resulting in the company (and even some private) bank accounts being terminated.

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Independent Media and its chairman are now facing the full force of the government being used against them.

This includes the government advertising with Independent Media, which is deliberately blocked, and various regulators and their respective bodies that are used to investigate, pressurise and oppose Dr Survé and the Sekunjalo Group.

As Dr Survé says it is all because Independent Media refuses to toe the line in so far as Ramaphosa’s administration is concerned.

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Meanwhile, the sunshine journalism seen in the publications under Arena Holdings has seen Arena’s owners being rewarded by the Ramaphosa administration with a 51% stake in SAA for R1 per share by Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan.

Public outcry

Various groupings in the country, including unions, as well as political parties, have decried the sale of a 51% stake in SAA to politically connected Takatso Consortium for the sum of R51.

EFF Commander-in-Chief, Julius Malema, announced this week, that his party was consulting with its lawyers to urgently stop the sale of SAA to Takatso Consortium, which he described as politically linked and also linked to “white capitalists” in South Africa.

Malema said they were in consultation with their legal team to reverse the deal saying it was part of a plan by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government to privatise all the state-owned enterprises.

Meanwhile, labour unions said the transaction was an obvious violation of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) and they were waiting for answers from the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa).

The DA said it would lodge a formal complaint with the parliamentary ethics committee regarding the failure ofGordhan and Enoch Godongwana, the Minister of Finance, to provide SAA information requested by the members of Scopa during the Scopa meeting on May 10.

“The Scopa meeting regarding the transfer of 51% of the shares in SAA to the Takatso consortium was characterised by both Godongwana and Gordhan being evasive, defensive and cagey about the SAA/Takatso deal.

The refusal to provide details of the agreement is far from transparent and is of major concern for the ability of Parliament to fulfil its oversight duties over state-owned entities,” said the DA.

Takatso Consortium’s links

The Takatso Consortium comprises Harith General Partners, which is chaired by former deputy finance minister Jabulani Moleketi.

Moleketi was the chairperson of the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), which in turn has a 30% stake in Harith.

Takatso is chaired by Tshepo Mahloele, former PIC head of corporate finance, who is also Harith group executive director.

Mahloele is also the chairperson and the founder of the Lebashe Investment Holding Group, which owns Arena Holdings.

Arena runs various news publications including Business Day, Sunday Times and Sowetan.

Moleketi is also a non-executive director at Lebashe.

At the Mpati commission, Mahloele and Moleketi were at pains to deny allegations brought by UDM president, General Bantu Holomisa, that they used their previous positions at the PIC to enrich themselves.

This, as South Africa continues to reel from the revelations contained in the Zondo commission report, showing that state capture has left state-owned enterprises on their knees.

The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) recently announced it was conducting investigations into SAA after the revelations at the Zondo commission.

Is there an urgency then, to force this deal through before the SIU confirms what we, and Zondo, have referenced that SAA has suffered the same fate as Eskom?

Planned and systematic sabotage of state-owned infrastructure, that is pillaged and stripped, before being sold off for nothing into the hands of private individuals (possibly even those who have directly benefited from the corrupt asset stripping)?

Media Freedom

In an affidavit to the courts, Dr Survé said one of the motives of the banks’ shutting down Sekunjalo’s accounts, was that Independent Media has exposed, specifically, the role of Absa, FNB and Investec in the Ramaphosa presidency funding debacle, (the CR17 campaign).

These CR17 bank statements are currently sealed, again indicating that Ramaphosa wants to hide to the public the role of the funders and especially that of the banks, in ensuring he attained the top spot in the land.

Since Ramaphosa’s administration came into power in 2018, there has been a determined effort to silence Independent Media.

This is a blatant attack on media freedom.

If the banks were honest, (can one say honest and bank in the same sentence?), they would admit that one of the reasons that they were terminating the accounts, is to put Independent Media either out of business or to ensure that Independent Media was picked up for a song by rival media houses, that would be supportive and receive benefits from the Ramaphosa administration.

Sound familiar?

The strategy of negative media articles by critics, the use of the now-discredited Mpati commission report and the termination, in successive sequence by various banks of Sekunjalo accounts, has shown that this is an orchestrated campaign.

Perhaps if Independent Media and Sekunjalo toed the line, they would also have received the national airline as a gift from a grateful government that in the past year, ‘invested’ between R10bn and R14bn in the national airline.

The price of real media freedom is standing by values and refusing to be bribed in order to write good news stories and to cover up maladministration, collusion and looting, such as was demonstrated under the R32bn PPE plundering under the Ramaphosa administration.

There cannot be a price for media freedom in this country (or anywhere), as South Africa needs to know what happens for voters to make informed choices about the future of their personal freedoms as much as those of the country.

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