Mzwandile Manyi. File Photo.
Johannesburg - Controversial businessman Mzwanele Manyi’s newspaper AfroVoice has shut down.

Staff at the newspaper, which until April had been known as The New Age, were told that they should not come to work on Sunday as the paper would be closed with immediate effect.

While they would not be working for the month of July, staff were promised that they would be paid their salaries.

On Thursday night, Manyi would not respond to calls or text messages seeking comment on the closure of the newspaper.

The newspaper was first published in 2010 by the Guptas and was a voice which backed former president Jacob Zuma, who was closely linked to the immigrant Indian family.

The New Age had signed a lucrative sponsorship deal with Transnet and the SABC to broadcast its breakfasts, which a parliamentary ad-hoc inquiry into the public broadcaster found benefited only the Guptas.

Manyi had bought the media assets of the Guptas, The New Age newspaper and the ANN7 news channel, through a complicated vendor financing deal. In essence, the Guptas lent Manyi’s Lodidox R450 million to buy their media assets.

Earlier this year MultiChoice had announced that ANN7, now AfroWorld View, would not broadcast on its DStv platform from August.

This after the Guptaleak e-mails revealed that the Guptas had been paid R25m by MultiChoice before the channel had gone to air, and had increased its annual carriage fees to the channel from R50m to R141m.

A reporter in Cape Town said he had received a text message only Thursday that it was the newspaper’s last day of publication and that he should not come in on Sunday.

In Midrand, where the newspaper is based, alongside the AfroWorld View news channel, staff were called to a meeting with Manyi. He told them that the business was not doing well, and for this reason it would be shut down until the management of Afrotone Media Holdings could come up with a solution.

One of the reporters at the meeting said the closure had not come as a surprise.

“We were called to the meeting at 15.35 by the chairman (Manyi). We waited for him before he made an appearance, but already there were rumours among the staff that the newspaper might be closing down.

READ: 'Legal issues' force Afro Voice to shut doors by end of July

“Eventually the chairman came in at around 16.50 and told staff that only the AfroVoice employees (would be affected).

“He told us that they had been running at a loss for a while now, and not making a profit,” said the reporter.

According to Manyi, in his meeting with the staff, the newspaper had no adverts, and newspapers were currently struggling.

“For now, the board had decided to stop (publication of the newspaper) while it sought other solutions. After the meeting, we asked him when are we stopping and he said today was the last edition and on Sunday we must not come to work but we will be paid at the end of July,” said the staffer.

Staff at the newspaper got their salaries deposited early this month on June 22 instead of the expected June 26.

Staff at the paper were not told about any sort of severance packages by Manyi, who insisted that the company was still seeking a solution to its troubles.

“After the meeting ended everyone just shook hands. The guys know that there is no coming back after this, people were disappointed because of the short notice.

“Every month we had the feeling that something like this could happen they should have given us at least three months, that gives more time for people to secure their futures.

“For now ,we don’t know what’s going to happen after July,” said the staffer.

A young journalist who started his career at AfroVoice said the announcement from Manyi was sudden, although it came as a relief.

“It did come as a bit of a surprise. We thought if things looked up on the TV side, then maybe on the print side things would start to look better,” said the journalist.

He said although it had been difficult working at the newspaper, staff had bonded through their common adversity and considered each other as family.

“Everyone was against us and most of the people who were there were young. We sort of formed a bond among each other. Sometimes it was a little bit hectic and we only had each other,” said the reporter.

In 2016, the bank accounts of the Guptas’ businesses were shut down by several South African and international banks over concerns that they had been used to launder money. This meant that staff at their companies had their salaries paid late.

The Star