How much is the truth worth? Well, if you are Dr Iqbal Survé, chairman of Sekunjalo Investments Holdings and executive chairman of Independent News Media, it could be billions of Rands.
Having weathered a barrage of severely negative and often false and misleading "news" stories and finger pointing over the past few years, Dr Survé has had enough.
He has decided that the truth must come out and the only way to do this, is by going to court to let the law decide.
As a result, and having consulted senior counsel on the matter, Dr Survé and his legal team will be issuing a raft of summonses during the first quarter of 2019.
These summonses will be aimed at a number of South African media houses, journalists in their personal capacity and a number of individuals who have been instrumental in the sustained and unprovoked attack on Dr Survé and a number of the Sekunjalo Group investee companies.
Dr Survé explains: “This is not a decision I have taken lightly, especially as I am a media owner myself. But it has come to a point where I feel we need to draw a line in the sand and take firm action. I am doing this not only for myself, but for the tens of thousands of our employees, our shareholders and those who stood in support of us. There is a pervasive culture of guilty till proven innocent in South Africa that is perpetuated through trial by public judgment based on few facts and those that are distorted to suit the needs of a few. Our media competitors and detractors are guilty of the most dishonest, malicious and untruthful reporting about us.”
The Big Lie - that is if you tell a lie often enough and repeat it, people will begin to believe it. In other words, propaganda (as perfected by the Nazis in WWII).
This certainly appears to be what has happened here and is how Sekunjalo and Dr Survé have arrived at the point of instituting legal action.
The how and the why it has got to this point; Acquiring INMSA - The step-up in negative media attention appears to have started when Dr Survé led a consortium to purchase Independent News Media South Africa (INMSA) about five years ago.
Up until that point, media ownership had not changed from the dark days of apartheid and this was the first significant transformation of the media in the new democratic South Africa. It was and still is, in the public interest to have a diverse narrative.
In order to streamline the business and to grow it however, it was necessary to make cuts in personnel (among other remedies) – most of these were former contractors and not, permanent employees, as has been repeatedly reported in the media.
With a large contingent of now ex-journalists looking to find a voice, and a voracious, competitive, largely monopolistic media sector looking to make sure its main rival did not gain traction, it was not long before a string of negative articles pervaded the market.
This strategy soon caught the attention of business opponents who began to see the benefit of a detracted negative campaign against not only Dr Survé in his personal capacity, but also targeted the Sekunjalo Group and its investee companies.
The Sekunjalo Group is one of the most successful corporate businesses in South Africa with a global footprint. This brings with it its own fair share of attention – some welcome and some not, particularly these days.
Not to belabour a point, but Sekunjalo has been in operation for over two decades and has an excellent track record – from investments, to growth, corporate governance and its transformational ethos, employing tens of thousands of people across a variety of sectors.
It has not been found wanting by any court of law. Dr Survé himself is also a well-known and internationally recognised philanthropist.
“Sadly, most of the positive gets lost in the morass of the propaganda,” said Survé.
To date, the group, various executives and stakeholders have refused to fall into the trap of being distracted by the negative, preferring to remain, mostly, silent.
However, in doing so, the group believes it has meant that detractors have been able to narrate the perception that the group, its companies and/or the executives are guilty of wrongdoing and at the same time, capitalise on the seeds of doubt that have been sown.
After careful consideration, and many weeks of reflection and discussion with chairpersons of the various companies, boards of directors, employees, customers and advisers, as well as union partners and stakeholders – the group has made the decision to clear its name once and for all.
Consequently, with a mounting pile of irrefutable evidence, Survé confirmed that action will be taken against those parties that have lied, deliberately misrepresented the group’s position and in many instances, colluded to undermine the businesses.
With the South African courts soon to be in recess, legal proceedings are expected to roll out in the New Year with several suits for damages expecting to amount to hundreds of millions if not billions of Rands.
When asked why he would be willing to go on the record now to inform his detractors that he would be instituting legal action, Dr Survé remarked: “This is not an empty rattling of the cages or a desperate attempt to rack up column inches of media coverage. This is fair warning that we are serious, and we have had enough and that they had better get their houses in order.
“There is a tipping point in every decision. We have now reached that. We are serious and will institute these summonses in the New Year as we intend to hold our detractors to account for their malicious and dishonest portrayal of myself and our businesses. I believe it only just to give my detractors advance notification – more than they have ever done for me – as, far from the ogre they portray me as, I am a fair man,” said Dr Survé.
The writing is now on the wall, lines have been drawn and 2019 is already shaping up to be an interesting year.