Naspers boss Koos Bekker flees accountability for glaring state capture
Recently, former communications minister Yunus Carrim took a bold stand and went to the Zondo commission which is probing allegations of state capture.
Under oath, he repeated allegations that, in 2013, Naspers went beyond capturing the state and instead captured the broadcasting regulatory framework. The company argued that the SABC should not encrypt top set boxes.
The move eliminated competition for Naspers in the lucrative pay-TV market which also controls the broadcast news platforms.
The former minister said the clause had no basis for forming part of a commercial deal.
“Here is an example of regulatory capture,” Carrim said.
“This, for me, is a very clear example whereby irregularity means you change the policy of the SABC. There is no reason to include this in a commercial agreement. The encryption had nothing to do with the commercial deal. When you ask MultiChoice representatives why it is there, they do not give you an answer.”
In his hard-hitting and eyebrow-raising testimony, the outspoken and independently minded Carrim laid bare how Naspers boss Koos Bekker shored up Naspers’s control.
Carrim was appointed communications minister in July 2013, but did not return to the role following the 2014 elections.
He says his removal had to do with his opposition to the deal which was largely seen as controversial and gave MultiChoice access to the SABC’s precious archives.
Part of the deal was that the SABC broadcast a news channel on the pay television service provider’s DStv platform. Included was a less popular entertainment channel, SABC Encore, which also airs on DStv.
Carrim said he had been concerned that the value of the SABC archives was worth more than the offer MultiChoice tabled. He estimated that they were worth about R1 billion.
He said that even if the deal did not mean the SABC was selling its archives and offering MultiChoice exclusive access, it remained problematic.
Carrim’s testimony also revealed how the deal with the SABC gave former chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng an R11.4 million bonus.
Despite Carrim’s damning evidence Carrim and indications he would return to the commission, Naspers has declined to voluntarily appear before it.
When asked whether it realised that its non-appearance was undermining the commission’s work and telling the public that it was too big to account for the alleged regulatory capture, Naspers media relations director in South Africa Shamiela Letsoalo pulled out an old statement sent to the media shortly after Carrim’s testimony.
Even though Naspers had snubbed the commission, the statement said it respected it.
“Having considered the allegations to the extent that they mention Naspers, it was concluded that there was no suggestion of illegality attributed to Naspers; we accordingly notified the commission that Naspers did not intend to exercise its rights to give evidence, to call witnesses or to cross-examine witnesses in response to the notice received from the commission,” it said.
“In the process, Naspers conveyed its respect for the commission and its appreciation for the valuable work that the commission is doing.”
In 2015 Naspers apologised for its role in apartheid and being complicit in upholding the system, amid a backlash from the international community.
Its actions have hardly been questioned by several media houses.
Also failing to vigorously question its stance are the major political parties, thus showing where the company derives its perceived arrogance.
However, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, an EFF member of Parliament, pointed out the media hypocrisy in failing to follow up on the matter.
On February 27, Ndlozi took to Twitter to slam the media’s silence.
He said Bekker, a man who was described by those who know him as someone who hardly left his fingerprints in questionable business deals, was pre-eminent in state capture.
“The shocking media silence on MultiChoice revelations at State Capture commission. What Koos Bekker & Nespers (sic) have done to the broadcasting industry in this country is far much bigger than what the Guptas did. Bekker is the pre-eminent State Capturer!,” Ndlozi tweeted.
As expected, some lambasted Ndlozi for raising the matter and said the media had reported on the allegations extensively.
They missed the fact that while the media had reported on the matter, it did not do so as vigorously as it had with other issues and it did not closely follow the private lifestyles of the people accused of being behind the deal.
Political analyst Protas Madlala said that by snubbing the commission, Naspers was saying it did not want to be judged as it feared that it could further expose its shortcomings.
He said the ball was in the Zondo commission’s court to prove itself by using its powers to subpoena the company to appear before it.
“Basically what Naspers is doing is to test who is really powerful between it and the commission. Now the commission has to defend its integrity by simply subpoenaing the company What Naspers is doing is setting a bad precedent, and the commission must stand up and defend itself.
“One must be very careful about precedents as it can’t be that you go to the commission only if you like, and if you don’t like to, you don’t go. That means that the commission is playing games. There are so many powerful figures who have respected the commission and appeared before it. Who is Naspers not to appear before it?” Madlala said.
Commission spokesperson Reverend Mbuyiselo Stemela previously told Independent Media that Naspers would be called to appear before the commission to answer to Carrim’s allegations. “It has not been confirmed yet. When we confirm that a witness is going to appear before the commission we send out communication to all media houses,” said Stemela.
Another political analyst, Thabani Khumalo, said Naspers and Bekker were seriously undermining the commission and its credibility as a platform to unravel the state capture web.
“What Naspers is doing is a sign of undermining that platform (Zondo commission)... The prevailing perception all over the country is that the Zondo commission was formed to investigate state capture and the state capturers being the Guptas. So there are other state capturers out there who think they are not targets through the commission.
“By shunning the commission they are trying to be seen as not involved in state capture and they want to be judged on another platforms.”
Khumalo said the commission had a legal obligation to invite Naspers and if it refused, the commission had to use its powers to force it to appear.
One of the protagonists in the controversial deal, Hlaudi Motsoeneng has indicated that he would go back to the Zondo commission to clear his name.
A man, who knows Bekker well, said Bekker was not like business mogul Johann Rupert or the Guptas who were always in the limelight and left their fingerprints in business deals.
However, in December 2017, Bekker was quoted by Cape Talk radio station as saying he saw “nothing criminal” in the SABC-MultiChoice deal. This was when questions were being asked about the SABC and ANN7 deal.