UPDATED: Burying Iqbal Survé ‘struggle doctor’ myth – Ed Herbst

CAPE TOWN — The good ‘struggle doctor’ who bought Independent Newspapers with “borrowed” state pensioners money and set about trying to restore the once-proud ANC’s reputation by undermining every tenet of decent journalism, may well be a stranger to the truth. That’s the kindest conclusion one can come to after reading this comprehensively-researched article by Ed Herbst which lays bare Dr Iqbal Survé’s much repeated claim that he was Nelson Mandela’ medical doctor. If there’s any evidence to back up what seems to be an outlandish claim designed to boost his credibility, Herbst was unable to find it. Perhaps the man who wears the long-standing cynical Cape Times in-house staff-given moniker of ‘Our Fearless Leader,’ as a badge of pride will come clean on August 3rd in debate with some of the country’s top journalists. It seems nobody’s told him that that ‘Fearless Leader’ was in constant use, at least over the full 17 years I worked there – mostly in connection with controversial and unpopular decisions the editor or news editor took. It’ll be interesting to see whether Survé shows up to face the assembled hacks at the Daily Maverick debate at the Cape Town International Convention Centre debate – and whether they pick up on what Herbst contends. – Chris Bateman

  • In an earlier version of this article, former Times Media CEO Stephen Mulholland was described as a “former Indy MD”. Mulholland never worked for Independent Newspapers either before or after Surve’s acquisition. Biznews’s usually reliable editing processes failed in this instance. Our apologies to a justifiably agitated Mulholland. Independent Media published a response on Surve’s behalf. We have republished same as a right of reply at the bottom of Herbst’s article.  It states that Surve’ withdrew from the Daily Maverick event because of other commitments. – AH   
More magic available at www.zapiro.com.

By Ed Herbst*

Some may say his claim to fame is that he was Nelson Mandela’s medical doctor on and off Robben Island. But his profile goes deeper than that. – Adriaan Groenewald and Ellis Mnyandu IOL 13/2/2014

There is a compelling public interest in the ongoing public scrutiny of Mandela’s life and death. He was arguably the most significant figure in contemporary South African history and so his legacy – or certainly debate about it – belongs to the people of South Africa and not exclusively to the Mandela family from which there is clearly limited consensus. – Editorial The Times 24/7/2017

Despite the plea in an editorial by The Times on 24 July for the public to have access to the information contained in Dr Vejay Ramlakan’s book, Mandela’s Last Years, the publisher’s announced on the same day that it had been withdrawn.

In a subsequent editorial The Times equated the move to censorship and a blow to freedom of expression, saying:

From excerpts from the book we know that Ramlakan has shone a light on important aspects of Mandela’s final days.

Veteran journalist Ed Herbst

Thanks to the good folk at that wonderful Cape Town institution, Clarke’s Bookshop in Long Street, a couriered copy reached me a day after my telephonic enquiry a week ago.

I felt the book would finally answer a question that has long intrigued media people specifically but also the public in general. What role, if any, did the ‘Struggle Doctor’, Dr Iqbal Survé, play in the life of Nelson Mandela?

If we are to believe commissioned puff pieces, the CV he supplied to Engineering News as well as his own public statements, that role was huge and possibly, in medical terms, of critical importance and perhaps life-saving importance.

Earliest opportunity

At the earliest opportunity Survé communicated these claims in 2013 to the staff of Independent Newspapers which he had acquired with a R1.2 billion PIC loan which was softer than a gram of cotton wool.

Tony Jackman recalls the occasion:

And then he told us, with eyes ablaze and Those Teeth – the ones cartoonists love to give emphasis, not that they need any – about how he and Madiba had been Like This, and how “(Mandela) said to me, just before he got ill, ‘Iqbal, are you still the same?’ I said to him, ‘Tata, I am still the same.’ He said, ‘Now I can go.’”

According to Jackman this news was received with cynicism, if not derision:

The sound of jaws dropping could be heard for several city blocks. Every journalist in the room looked down, shuffled their feet, glanced at one another. The sound of eyebrows raising could be heard in Muizenberg. The sound of muffled chortles disturbed the birds in the Company’s Garden aviary.

Perhaps that cynicism was deserved.

Terry Bell, the doyen of South African labour reporters and a man highly regarded by Cosatu’s Patrick Craven, investigated these claims and revealed that he could find no supporting proof for them.

Interviewed by the SABC, on 6 November 2014  Survé said at 4:26 of this YouTube clip: “In our group they call me two things, I am not sure that it’s an appropriate term, either the ‘Teflon Doctor’ because whatever the competitors say bounces off me, or they call me ‘The Fearless Leader’.”

Definitive book

So what does Dr Ramlakan’s definitive book about the medical care that Nelson Mandela experienced say about the allegedly stellar role that the ‘Struggle Doctor’ and ‘Fearless Leader’ played in this regard.


Not a chapter, not a page, not a paragraph, not a sentence, not a word.

Not even in the index.

Former South African President Nelson Mandela

In the appendix – in a chapter headed ‘Medical support’ Ramlakan details in 15 pages, the names and CV’s of every doctor who, to his knowledge, treated Mandela and everyone on the staff at every hospital where Mandela was treated and at his Houghton and Qunu homes. The chapter includes the name of everyone on the support staff as well – right down to the nurses and the constables in the security staff. Nowhere does the name Iqbal Survé appear.

Mandela’s Final Years does, however, vindicate one aspect of Terry Bell’s research. In the above-mentioned article, Bell writes:

What is on record is that Mandela’s personal physician and friend for more than 20 years was Johannesburg-based Dr Michael Plit, now aged 79 and currently recovering from a serious illness. He became Mandela’s primary physician after the former president moved to Johannesburg in 1992 and remained in this position until he retired in 2011, shortly before Madiba moved to his home in Qunu in the Eastern Cape.

In his book Ramlakan quotes Graca Machel on allowing Plit to visit Mandela in his final days:

It is for Madiba’s peace of mind and emotional security. It comes from more than twenty years of a journey together since the time he came out of prison. When it comes to making Madiba feel all is well with his health, Dr Plit is the assurance. Even if he refuses to take treatment, as soon as we say “Dr Plit wants you to take or do this,”Madiba will immediately comply. Ask any of the medical team who have been with us, and they will confirm this.  P107

But why Plit and not Survé if, as the latter avers, he and Mandela had been ‘Like this’.

No knowledge

Terry Bell

Plit and his family, as Bell asserts, had no knowledge of Survé playing any medical role in Mandela’s life and neither did Zelda la Grange.

Furthermore, according to businessman and lawyer Peter Hamilton Flack, when he mentioned Survé in conversation with Mandela, the name meant nothing to him:

Mr Mandela looked puzzled and said he did not recognise the name even after I repeated it.

This is bewildering, if not disturbing because in the 2006 CV Survé submitted to Engineering News he claims, for the record and on the record, that he had a personal association with Mandela:

Person who has had the biggest influence on your life: Nelson Mandela, through personal interaction with him

But is the absence of the name Iqbal Survé in Ramlakan’s book not replicated in another significant book on Mandela’s life?

I refer to Secret Revolution – Memoirs of a Spy Boss by Niël Barnard, the former head of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) in the P W Botha era. There is no mention of Survé in this book.

Barnard, under the aegis of Botha, had his first meeting with Mandela in Pollsmoor Prison on 25 May 1988 and was, thereafter, central to the negotiations which led to the 1994 universal suffrage election.

In August 1988, in the midst of these negotiations, Mandela was diagnosed as having tuberculosis and was first admitted to Tygerberg Hospital and then a clinic in Constantia, where he was twice visited, as a courtesy, by Barnard.

This was a critical medical period in the life of a man then 70 years old.

Had Iqbal Survé been involved in his medical care at that time as a confidant and a doctor – he had qualified at UCT medical school a year before – would Barnard not have mentioned this in his book?

Shrouded in controversy

Survé’s acquisition of the Independent News Media company has been shrouded in controversy from the start and such controversy has never stopped.

A week ago, referring to the overt campaign which Indy newspapers like the Cape Times ran against the Vice Chancellor of UCT – a screaming front page headline Arrest Max Price and constant reference to the university being a racist and apartheid-era institution – Professor Jonathan Jansen described the Fallists who had physically attacked Price (without mention or condemnation by the Cape Times ) as ‘facists.’

“When someone throws a bomb through Max Price’s office window… that kind of disruption has no place in a democracy. Why are we silent in the face of this kind of fascism? I can’t think of a better word (than fascism).”

Facts detrimental to the Fallist cause were simply withheld from Cape Times readers in a clear and deliberate policy of censorship by omission and everything possible was done to sugar-coat their activities which saw our universities suffer infrastructural damage costing more than a billion rand and several attempts to murder campus security personnel.

Fake News? Iqbal Survé’s dictum that all articles carried in his newspapers must be ‘fair, balanced and accurate’ – a dictum routinely ignored, without sanction or consequence, by Aneez Salie.

Recently we have had Sunday Independent editor, Wally Mbhele, being dismissed after the newspaper published an article which was critical of the ANC’s machinations to get the hugely-compromised Gupta ally, the uncouth and  boorish Brian Molefe, appointed as an MP.

This directly contradicts a 2013 assurance that Survé gave his staff in a letter immediately after the Sekunjalo takeover:

‘I also want to debunk the myth that I will frown upon and act against journalists who ask tough questions and probe issues of malfeasance involving politicians, business people and other components of our society.’

Also recently, the Cape Argus fabricated yet another Fake News front page lead as part of the continuing Newspaper House smear campaign against Helen Zille.

Fake news – the second Cape Times front page lead within a month which was devoid of truth.

More than a month ago Fin24 alleged that, during initial negotiations by the Guptas to buy a substantial stake in the Indy newspapers, Iqbal Survé was happy to cede to them the right to appoint the editors of newspapers like the Cape Times and The Star. This was revealed in the leaked Gupta Emails:

What would the Guptas get in return? For one thing, the right to appoint the editors of newspapers like the Cape Times and The Star. This has been confirmed by the leaked emails. In an April 2015 email to Oakbay’s lawyer, Howa writes: “The appointment of [Independent] editors was a hard-won victory in the negotiations.”

This claim has not been disputed and neither has Survé sought legal redress in this regard.

This is troubling given the fact that he had previously acknowledged being a conduit through whom Brett Kebble had distributed money to ANC Youth League leaders like Malusi Gigaba.

Perfect platform

Iqbal Survé has the perfect platform to clarify these contentious matters when he appears on 3 August at the Cape Town International Conference Centre during a Daily Maverick debate about the media. He will share the platform and the microphone with some of the most influential media communicators in the country – Marianne Thamm, Sam Sole, Redi Thlabi, Branko Brkic, Bruce Whitfield, Ranjeni Munusamy and Xolani Gwala – and they will communicate his message throughout the country.

What the South African public and, more particularly its almost three million civil servants and their dependents  want to know and are entitled to know is whether Sekunjalo will repay the billion rand plus it borrowed from the Public Investment Company in 2013 to fund the purchase of the biggest group of English newspapers in the country.

Will the loan be repaid or converted to worthless equity and, if it is repaid, what will the rate of return be? Will it, for example, be on a par with the 5000% return that Chancellor House got in its Hitachi/Medupi deal?

This is a matter of profound public interest given what happened in the horrifying Canyon Springs debacle which saw more than R120 million in textile worker pension funds disappear in a scam at the heart of which was an ANC luminary, Enoch Godongwana – who has suffered no sanction of consequence.

We are all entitled to this information because section 32 of chapter 16 of the Bill of Rights states:

“Everyone has the right of access to any information held by the state; and any information that is held by another person and that is required for the exercise or protection of any rights.”

Section 32 not only provides for access to information held by the state, but also from a third party if it is required to exercise or protect any right. This makes this provision unique, even among freedom of information legislation, which commonly only apply to public bodies. Section 32 applies to public bodies, as well as private bodies, including companies.

More than a year ago, Iqbal Survé assured Terry Bell that he would provide such answers in the autobiography he was working on.

The Daily Maverick media debate a few days hence will provide him with the ideal opportunity to update us with a progress report.

  • Ed Herbst is a retired veteran journalist who writes in his own capacity.

RIGHT OF REPLY: Independent Media responds to Biznews’ attempted hatchet job

By Staff Reporter

Independent Media has responded to an online article which attacks its executive chairman, Dr Iqbal Survé.

In a statement, the media house said that the author of the article in Biznews, Ed Herbst, continued to try and discredit Survé. “This blatant propaganda is fake news at its best which cannot be taken seriously by any reasonable person,” the statement read.

Herbst’s article refers to the fact that Survé is not mentioned as a doctor who treated Nelson Mandela in Dr Vejay Ramlakan’s controversial book, “Mandela’s Last Years”, despite Survé having served as a doctor to Mandela and other Robben Island prisoners.

The article also revives previous attacks by other detractors on Survé and his ownership of Independent Media.

“Once again BizNews is running a piece, with flagrant disregard for the facts,” the statement read. It condemned the “obsession with Dr Survé and his business interests” and asked why anyone would keep searching for evidence of his relationship with Mandela – the focus of the article – and then try to connect it with an event being arranged by the Daily Maverick (DM).

Herbst’s article says it would be interesting to see if Survé “shows up” at the media event in Cape Town on August 3. However Survé had earlier declined the invitation due to other commitments, and is not participating.

The DM website has been updated and does not list him as a speaker.