Open Letter by Sekujalo’s ex-spindoctor tells world Survé simply marvellous

Among the quaint customs in a South Africa where an ancient world often stands alongside the modern is the employment of “imbongis”. These professional praise-singers are a relic from an age where onlookers would be awed through overblown claims of a leader’s prowess, wisdom and courage. Nowadays imbongis have morphed into part of the entertainment value at major events, often where politicians are involved. At the bottom end of the public relations profession, some play a similar role for company CEOs, churning out exaggeration in exchange for lucre. Last night, Independent Newspapers chairman Iqbal Survé Whatsapped me a link to something he clearly wanted us to publish on Biznews. It appears below. Survé was clearly delighted by his former spindoctor Adri Senekal De Wet’s eulogy, heading his message to me with “Attacks on Iqbal Surve’ untrue, humiliating.” Have a read. Perhaps you’ll agree with the supportive Ms Senekal De Wet. Perhaps not. – Alec Hogg

An open letter from Adri Senekal De Wet

Dear Doc Survé,

Adri Senekal De Wet. Picture: LinkedIn
Adri Senekal De Wet. Picture: LinkedIn

I am emotional, disgusted, frustrated; and mostly saddened, as I am writing to you today. Doc, I have known you for many years, and as I always say to the people close to me, “I worked WITH Dr Survé, never FOR Dr Survé, since this is what you taught me over the years; To work together, to stand together, to inspire and to uplift the people around us, especially the youth and those not-so-privileged, the disabled, women and the abused. Against this background Doc, I cannot be true to the values which you instilled in all of us who had the pleasure of working with you, if I don’t react on the recent attacks on you as a person, as well as against the companies you represent today, viz. the Sekunjalo Group and Independent Media.

My only link with you today is that I am one of your 5000 FB friends. (I think if FB did not have a 5000 limit you would have a million friends by now ?)

Doc Survé I want to start with the following facts:

I am a white, Afrikaans speaking woman, a single mother of 4 beautiful daughters, facing many a challenge every day to take care of my family and living in the Afrikaans heartland of Centurion, Pretoria. Today I am no longer a financial journalists but an entrepreneur. I don’t work with you anymore, but I often research you, and Sekunjalo, and the new kid on the block, African Equity Investments. Please allow me the opportunity to share some of my experiences (and highlights in my career) with you:

Working as a journalist

I worked at Sake Rapport as an economics editor in the late 1990’s, when I first met you. I was under extreme pressure on that Friday afternoon when you walked into my office in Doornfontein – I still had to write the market report, and finalize a couple of articles before my “deadline”. When I asked “Can I help you Sir”, I thought that you got lost and needed directions. Up until that time, there were no black people visiting Sake Rapport! You kindly replied “Yes please, we would like to talk to a financial journalist; we are going to list on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange soon”. I was shocked. A black company listing on the JSE was unheard of! This must be a story! And this is where our journey started.

Iqbal Surve, Executive Chairman, Independent Media Group
Iqbal Surve, Executive Chairman, Independent Media Group

I called Jan Botha, our photographer, to take a picture of “Dr Surve”, and the editor, Dr Fanus Gous, asking him to allow me another half an hour since I have “a new listing”. (There were not a lot of listings at the time). You told me that you are a medical doctor having left medicine 18 months before and now the CEO of a Black Economic Empowerment company, and that your company Sekunjalo owns shares in Health and Racquet (today Virgin Active), that you own a factory in Johannesburg producing surgical needles and hospital equipment, as well as an investment in hospital IT systems, that you own shares in a fishing company exporting lobsters and abalone to China and the USA….”. I remember my reply: “So Dr Survé, are you going to list in the healthcare or food and beverage or tourism sector”? You laughed, “No, in the diversified industrial sector” you replied.

I had mixed emotions at the time, knowing that you are competing with big Afrikaner businesses in that sector. You confidently took out the Sekunjalo Prospectus for me to review. I was amazed and must admit very sceptical that someone could list a company in 18 months. I was wrong when you listed in May 1999 and was the youngest CEO of any diversified investment company on the JSE.

I told my sceptical colleagues that here is someone special, even though he is black! (I will tell you another story of what happened to me after publishing the article).

Today I know that you have three degrees from UCT, including an MBA, you are a Harvard alumnus and have an academic Fellowship from the American College of Sports medicine, and I think you are the first black doctor to achieve that? So I am not sure what all this fuss about Fellowships is when you already had one then. You also had the most impressive profile of any CEO I interviewed at the time as a senior journalist (nobody I knew at the time knew President Mandela and had a person as Professor Jakes Gerwel as Chairman!)

Read also: Iqbal Survé: SA media’s Walter Mitty who got R900m from State pensioners

When I asked you about your background, I remember you sitting opposite me, and passionately shared your journey, telling me “it wasn’t easy to study to be a doctor”, that you had to sell the Cape Times and Argus (ironical isn’t it?) at the traffic light crossing lose to Kenilworth Racecourse and Kenilworth station where you grew up , that your Dad couldn’t afford to pay for your studies and that bursaries were mostly available for white students and that you were only one of handful of black students out of a class of about 200 allowed to study at the all-white University of Cape Town medical school.

“So, why don’t you practice as a medical doctor anymore”? I then asked.

“Well there were no opportunities for black corporate business under apartheid, so many of us who are professionals had to heed the call from Madiba in 1997 to change the economy and have an impact on society in a bigger way than I could as a doctor ( President Nelson Mandela in 1997 made an impassioned plea for black professionals to enter the mainstream economy of South Africa to bring about meaningful transformation of the social and economic landscape in order to redress the economic legacy of apartheid) , I therefore decided to leave my love for medicine, and I started the Sekunjalo Group with others social activists.

“I will always be a doctor, but I am concerned about the future of the people of South Africa that could not be qualified as a doctor or engineer, and I want to make a difference in the country I so much love. I want the poorest of the poor to achieve greatness in their own right,” you told me.

You also told me about the many poor employees in Sekunjalo and that the reason for your listing is to allow THEM an opportunity to OWN shares and build companies and employ more people.

I asked “What does Sekunjalo mean”? “Now is the time”, you replied as it was the famous song Madiba had jived to during the election campaign in 1994. And I knew: This is the message. Indeed Doc, it was the time, and you were there.

Dr Survé, when I read the latest articles about you, I have to ask myself, why aren’t you reacting? This is ridiculous! How can ANYBODY question YOU? Honestly Doc, I ask myself, are they mad, jealous or simply stupid. I was a journalist employed by the very same publications that now publish series of articles about you, attack your credibility and question your biography.

Doc, I was in your office and in your home in Rondebosch, where I saw many photographs with you and Madiba, from your time as a young doctor to the time of Sekunjalo’s listing and long thereafter, some pictures with your children and others with you and Madiba (I even posted some of them on Facebook since the recent attack on you).

I have personally seen many notes and books signed by Madiba to you, including a book which I think was also signed by Gandhi? You mentioned to me once how Madiba laughed when you asked him to sign one specific book and the amazing pictures with Madiba and your (then) young children, Rayhaan and Saarah, whom I am blessed to know!

Doc Survé, I was there. I’ve seen all of this with my own eyes, I was also there when you hosted President Mandela and members of the Saudi royal family and the UAE royal family, at Groote Schuur and Table Bay Hotel – when you asked Madiba to accompany you to an organisation called YPO, a business organisation. (Please forgive me that I don’t recall the dates – I know your precision to detail …)

Read also: Ed Herbst: A Purger’s Picket – Hlaudi lies in Surve’s shadow

But, I was also there when you launched the Memoirs of Ahmed Kathrada, supporting a thousand books for the schools (“so that the story of the struggle could be told as you put it”) introducing him to your friends in Sweden and elsewhere in the world, asking him to please support the launch of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, whom I know your children call “Uncle Kathy”. (By the way Doc, I am still a bit upset that I was never invited to the dinner or lunches with “Uncle Kathy” at your home?).

When I contacted you on FB to ask why you don’t respond or ask Mr Kathrada to respond, you replied in a dignified way as only you could. You said “Adri, what they are doing to me is nothing compared to what Madiba and Kathy had to go through. Why should I dignify such nonsense by asking Kathy to respond? He has struggled enough having spent 27 years in prison. My struggle with these detractors is nothing compared to Kathy and Madiba’s suffering. Kathy spoke with me and was sorry that these journalists lied about our relationship and he thinks he took advantage of Kathy’s poor hearing. For me and my kids chatting with Kathy is enough. There is no need to drag him or anyone else in to satisfy the Verwoedian lust of a journalist.”

Doc I respect you for that. Most people would have asked Mr Kathrada to admonish the journalist (a Mr Terry Bell, who I think was fired by independent). Not you. You always remain dignified and put others first. That is why I knew you were different and special, walking into the office of Rapport many years ago – you had, and till have, the Madiba touch.

Afrikaanse Handelsinsituit: Sakeleier van die Jaar: 2007

Dr Survé, what most amazes me, is that the very same publications from Media24/Fin24 that now attacks your credibility, saluted you when the AHI awarded you as “Die Kaapse Sakekamer en die Burger Sakeleier van die Jaar” in 2007, I was there again, you quoted the Afrikaans poem from Van Wyk Louw, and had the people on their feet, all applauding you when you said: “We must make sure that South Africa is in good hands” and that “South Africa needs to change”. More than 1000 Afrikaner business men and women clocked around you afterwards, and praised you for your achievements, even though you told them that blacks need to be supported in the same way as Afrikaners were supported during apartheid to overcome economic difficulties. You did not mince your words.

Read also: Alide Dasnois’ 67-page ‘tell all’ affidavit. Suing Survé’s Independent for R4m.

Die Burger published your speech on the front page, so did Sake Rapport. I ask: What has changed? The answer is clear: The Star, Pretoria News, Cape Times, Cape Argus, The Mercury. 21 newspapers. You now became a competitor and someone with enormous influence over 7 million people daily.

But why attack and humiliate you, in person, Doc? Well, I suppose you need to thank Naspers, or Media24, for the fantastic coverage … it is quite expensive to advertise, as you know … for your biography. Doc I think the intent is to destroy you since your “Independent Group” has become a threat. The one thing the Afrikaners will battle to tolerate is a black man that stands independent, after many years of owning the majority of the print media. It will be a very sad day if the plan is to control, or find a way, to destroy you, Dr Survé. Doc I am afraid, that as far as I can see – this is what is currently happening.

I was asked by a journalist in 2011 (when I worked with you at Sekunjalo) to help with information to proof that “Iqbal is corrupt” … I will go to court with this statement. No journalist will find corruption or crony capitalism with you (I am sure they would have investigated you to hell and gone by now) so they have to destroy and character assassinate you with lies and madness.

Doc it is only because you have an impact, I am convinced, that they need to do this to you!

Working at Sekunjalo

When I worked at Sekunjalo as stakeholder relations executive in 2010, battling to schedule an interview with a journalist from Die Burger, to report on the annual results, AND armed with a press release loaded with newsworthy content like “Sekunjalo has been awarded the Top Empowerment Company Award”, I asked myself, as a previous economics editor of Sake Beeld, Finansies & Tegniek and Sake Rapport, why is it so difficult to get Sekunjalo in the news? I remember once asking you jokingly: “Doc, please, just buy a small newspaper so that I can tell the Sekunjalo story.”

It was many months later when you called me, told me about the discussion you had with your daughter and son and that you are about to do just that! It was one of the most precious moments of my career! I told you then, “Doc, I will work for free, can I please be part of your journey.” You laughed, and maybe you will laugh again, but my offer still stands …

Doc, please don’t give up. Please tell your story. Please publish your book, your legacy. When South Africa celebrated Madiba Day on the 18 th of July this year, your daughter Saarah published on social media a photo of her and Madiba, taken on his birthday, close to the end of his life on earth, I know your son posted many pictures of Madiba and him and the family, taken in the both your and Madiba’s homes.

You, Doc, invested millions in the Survé Family Foundation, where you paid for the educations of hundreds of students, artists and struggling entrepreneurs; Black, white, coloured and Indian young people without hope. You believe in peoples’ potential, and you are definitely not a “racists” ( I laugh when my friends in Pretoria say you are anti-white: They don’t know you, you are pro-black transformation but that does not mean being anti-white) – if you were, I, as a white Afrikaans woman with four beautiful white daughters , wouldn’t be writing this open letter to you, a businessman, leader, and someone who inspires me about doing business with a purpose or as you put it many years ago “people before profits” .

Real Empowerment

The Business Place iKapa

In 2011 you asked me to assist the team at The Business Place iKapa – just one of Sekunjalo and the Survé Foundation’s philanthropic investments which you chaired. This is a place where thousands of young entrepreneurs were supported in their ventures, Black, White, Coloured and Indian, men and women over more than 10 years.

It was so successful that the City of Cape Town formed a joint venture agreement with you and launched “Cape Town Activa”, with you as Chairman.

I remember the stories of the poor township woman who was homeless and who thanked you for making it possible to make puzzles and the guy who made paper from dung and who had a big picture of you in his workshop. Doc, those people know who you are and what you have done. They are your legacy, not these foolish journalists.

Women Empowerment

When I interviewed you after Sekunjalo was listed on the JSE, a young women called “Cherie” was your secretary. Today, the very same Cherie, is a executive director and serves on the boards of many companies, including African Equity Investments, a listed public company valued at billions, and many others. She is your legacy.

The many workers that went from the factory floor to managers in your companies are your legacy. The many women in Sekunjalo companies that you have promoted, they are your legacy.

Business Networking

Doc, do you remember the “Sekunjalo Breakfast Club”, where you introduced young entrepreneurs to most of the cabinet and influential business leaders, with the likes of Thabo Mbeki ,Trevor Manuel, Ahmed Kathrada, Essop Pahad and Nkosozana Zuma and many others? You initiated those events because you wanted to make a difference.

When I asked you then “Doc Survé, who’s paying for this”, you said: “I am”. When I asked why, you simply replied: “Adri, it is always about the people: and the need to get people from different backgrounds to work together”.

Sekunjalo Annual Awards

Doc, you, without realising, gave, and still gives, people dignity. You awarded prizes to almost everyone at Sekunjalo, every year that performed. I remember how Sharon, managing the “cold store” saved for months for a dress to wear to the Sekunjalo Annual Awards”. So did the receptionist, the tea ladies and the captains of the boats. You knew all their names, and treated them as you treated Ahmed Kathrada and Nelson Mandela – with respect and dignity.

Doc Survé, I am writing to you, out of respect. I have to ask, no, challenge, Corporate South Africa, to introduce to me ANY CEO that that started with R250 000, and grew that it to a portfolio of 189 investments and a net asset value today worth billions in 15 years.

Doc, you are the untold story and if you were white you would have received many accolades and doctorates by now. How many CEOs do you know Doc that offered their salaries and bonuses to pay the salaries of those that worked with them, rather than to retrench them as you did when the Indians dumped syringes and made it costly to manufacture. It was quietly reported in the Sekunjalo annual report and you made no fuss and did not seek publicity for sacrificing R4 million rand then in salary and bonuses to keep workers employed. Who has done that in SA today? You did Doc.

Something Personal

Doc, I want to share with you something personal, a good friend of yours told me one day, something you don’t talk about but it needs to be said: “Iqbal grew up very poor.” He told me about the challenges you and your family faced in Harfield/Kenilworth, Cape Town – no food , no clothes, nothing, that your dad was selling fruit and vegetables from a small corner café and then spices on the street to feed the extended family; that at one stage more than 20 people lived in a tiny two-bedroomed cottage in Harfield and how you worked by selling newspapers and vegetables to educate yourself at university.

How your father was destroyed by loan sharks when he needed money to move from Harfield because he refused to take a Group Areas house when your family was moved out of the whites-only area.

I could not believe that you could have overcome all these obstacles to become successful. Yet, nobody knows this.

Doc, please publish your biography so more people get to know the Doc Surve I know, your real story.

Your friend also told me, and I quote him, how “it is impossible to schedule a meeting with Iqbal on a Friday… because he visits his mother. He is having lunch with her”. I hope that she is still well, and that you will read my letter to her. She must be very proud of you. So am I and thousands of others.

Doc, they can never destroy you in our mind: You remain our hero and inspiration!

Telling the Truth

Doc Survé, I cannot apologise on behalf of those that do not know YOU, those that have a mission to destroy you for political or economic benefits; I can only assure you that their views do not represent the views of all Afrikaners. Please Doc, in your own words: “Somebody has to tell the truth.”

I was further inspired to write my letter to you, after taking my daughter to the movies yesterday. The movie was “God is not dead”. I cried and knew the time has come for me to react. I know that you always respected all religions, all people and allowed everybody to speak their minds, as long as it is the truth. I want to take you up on those precious values you taught me. Now, again, is the time!

Don’t give up. I salute you! And my offer: It will be an honour to be part of your journey, and if I could, I will do it for free! Dr Survé, I know that you can take South Africa forward. When I hear people say “Amandla, Power to the People”, I just smile. I know a man, a leader and I hope a friend, living just that, doing just that.

With you in your journey for a better South Africa – an Afrikaner woman who believes in telling the truth and justice.

As always, my best wishes to you and your family.

Warm Regards

Adri Senekal de Wet

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