Iqbal Survé hires dirty journalists to do more dirty work. Marianne Thamm follows the trail…

EDINBURGH — South African journalists have played a key role in shedding a light on state capture and corruption. But, journalists have also furthered the interests of the corrupt and the captured through their craft. The state-controlled SABC was an obvious home for Zuma-aligned  journalists, while television station ANN7 and The New Age newspaper were media companies owned by the Zuma-linked Gupta family and used as a conduit to suck up state funds through millions of rands worth of  government advertising. The Sunday Times, a major title that positions itself as editorially independent, played its part, too, with its editors allowing reporters to concoct bogus plots with the help of un-named sources. This shoddy, unethical journalism ultimately jeopardised the wellbeing of individuals who were acting in the best interests of the public – for example at the South African Revenue Service. Some of these journalists have been punished, by being fired or having awards withdrawn. Some have found new homes with like-minded operators. Marianne Thamm picks up on how media boss Iqbal Survé, who milked state coffers through the Public Investment Corporation and has also boasted about his close links with former president Jacob Zuma in the past, has snapped up journalists who appear to be partial to a smear campaign to help political friends. First published on Daily Maverick. – Jackie Cameron 

Discredited Sunday Times journalists find new home at Iqbal Survé’s media empire

By Marianne Thamm

On Sunday 28 April, Piet Rampedi and Mzilikazi Wa Afrika shared a joint byline in Independent titles on a report titled “Zuma allies under scrutiny as police probe Magashule, Mkhwebane”.

The story claimed that police were about to pounce on ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, former SSA DG Arthur Fraser and former SAA board chairperson Dudu Myeni on various charges including murder, corruption and money laundering.

Fraser, the duo reported, had received notice from “his bank of more than 20 years” that his account was being closed on 22 May. Neither the bank nor Fraser confirmed the information to Rampedi and Wa Afrika who wrote that Fraser had “declined” to confirm that he had received a notice from his bank.

The writers make the claim that a “source close to him” confirmed the notice and added that Fraser was “planning to challenge the bank”.

“It is believed investigators told Fraser they were acting on allegations disclosed in author Jacques Pauw’s book, The President’s Keepers,” wrote Rampedi and Wa Afrika.

Hearsay on stilts.

In October 2018 Pauw wrote that while Sunday Times editor Bongani Siqoko’s apology for the SARS rogue unit and other stories was only the beginning of a “journalistic healing process”, the public still needed to know about and expose “the hidden hand that played (Stephan) Hofstatter and his colleagues.”

“This was not just sloppy reporting or journalists that got it wrong. This was manufactured journalism that was meant to disinform and to ultimately damage our law-enforcement agencies. This was journalism that had a higher purpose: to keep Jacob Zuma in power and weaken and ultimately eliminate his enemies.

“Were any of the Sunday Times journalists paid by crime intelligence or the SSA? Were they agents?” asked Pauw.

Also read: Top journalists duke it out in Sunday Times fake news controversy – Herbst

The reports in Survé’s Independent titles follow in the slipstream of renewed attempts by Mkhwebane to investigate charges of misconduct against Pravin Gordhan with regard to the SARS “rogue unit”.

They come also in the midst of a lethal factional battle in the ANC between Magashule and Zuma allies and President Cyril Ramaphosa and the “new dawn” forces.

On Monday 29 April, Rampedi and Wa Afrika published a second story stating that Magashule claimed that “organs of the State” were being “used in a titanic battle for the soul of the party.”

The duo wrote that “on Sunday, Deputy Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Obed Bapela, confirmed that Hawks generals had tipped him off that his office would be raided this week as part of an ‘unspecified’ investigation against him”.

This claim, Rampedi and Wa Afrika state, has “lifted the lid on a battle that is expected to intensify immediately after the elections, when President Cyril Ramaphosa assembles his new Cabinet”.

Hearsay on steroids part two occurs when the journalists quote Bapela as saying “he was also told there were plans to arrest Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane and raid the ANC headquarters, Luthuli House”.

Magashule, Rampedi and Wa Afrika write, had told them “he was aware of the plan to raid Luthuli house” and had added “they are trying to intimidate us but we are not scared.

“They have illegally bugged our phones, and some of our comrades had their phones hacked,” Magashule was quoted as saying.

Magashule is yet to lay any complaints with regard to his statement.

Then, adding a cherry on top of a dollop of hearsay, Rampedi and Wa Afrika write that Magashule had claimed he was also aware that “EFF leader Julius Malema and his deputy Floyd Shivambu had also been targeted”.

Malema and Shivambu had told the reporters that they were, in fact, unaware of any investigation. The DPCI said the same, as did SAPS, when Daily Maverick inquired about the alleged investigations.

Rampedi and Wa Afrika, in their Sunday story, wrote that Hawks spokesperson Hangwani Mulaudzi “on Saturday denied that the elite crime-busting unit was probing Magashule, Fraser, Mkhwebane, Myeni and others for various crimes. He also denied they had taken a statement from Magashule.”

Brigadier Vish Naidoo, SAPS spokesperson, when asked by Daily Maverick if SAPS were investigating Magashule and Mkhwebane, asked for a “case number” to confirm the assertions by Rampedi and Wa Afrika.

Rampedi, Wa Afrika and Stephan Hofstatter were part of the disgraced Sunday Times investigative unit which published a series of fake news stories with regard to the SARS “rogue unit” as well as the “Cato Manor death squads” during 2013 and 2014.

The Sunday Times later, after a ruling by the Press Ombud, retracted and apologised for the stories while in March 2019 the conveners of the prestigious Taco Kuiper Award for Investigative Journalism withdrew runner-up awards to Hofstatter, Wa Afrika and Rob Rose.

Carlos Amato, in deep dive for the Mail & Guardian in December 2018, explored how South African media, while playing a crucial role in exposing the gargantuan extent of State Capture during Jacob Zuma’s term of office, had also been compromised by misinformation and fake news used to eliminate civil servants who posed a threat to Zuma.

These planted stories ultimately ruined the careers of senior officials in SARS and the Hawks who happened, at the time, to be investigating Jacob Zuma, members of his family as well as No 1’s large entourage of shady friends with benefits.

Amato commented that while journalists do make mistakes, the Sunday Times stories were premised on a lie.

“As the dirty war in SARS unfolded in the intervening years, it became clear that the Sunday Times had been spectacularly played by shadowy intelligence figures seeking to boost SARS commissioner Tom Moyane’s campaign. Retired judge Robert Nugent, who headed the inquiry into tax governance and administration at SARS, said: ‘He [Moyane] arrived without integrity and then dismantled the elements of governance one by one. This was more than mere mismanagement. It was seizing control of Sars as if it was his to have.’”

For their latest Independent scoop Rampedi and Wa Afrika quote two “intelligence sources” as well as “a senior government official and a lawyer for one of the accused” as the sources.

Also read: Paul Hoffman SC: Sunday Times needs to expose rotten “sources”

The authors claim that police are investigating Magashule for the theft of a Pierneef landscape worth R8m during his tenure as Free State premier (as they should do, by the way), Mkhwebane for the alleged murder of her husband, Mpho Tshela, in 2006, as well as money laundering.

The money laundering charges, said Rampedi and Wa Afrika, related to Mkhwebane’s transferring of funds after the sale of a property in China.

“There is no huge amount of money which I transferred to South Africa, besides the fact that when I was still in China I sold my property and then I bought another property whilst I was still a diplomat. When I left China, I closed my bank account in Hong Kong and transferred the money here,” Mkhwebane told Rampedi and Wa Afrika.

So over and above Malema and Shivambu telling Rampedi and Wa Afrika they were unaware of any investigation, the Hawks saying they had no idea, Fraser not responding, Mkhwebane herself seemed to be in the dark until the duo fed the info to her at the weekend.

“In a telephone interview this week, Mkhwebane said while she was aware of the previous plan to arrest her for possession of a classified document, the latest move had taken her by surprise,” they wrote.

They quoted Mkhwebane as saying, “It is the first time I hear that they plan to do that. But… I had information three months ago that apparently they are still trying to find a way of charging me with something.”

This hearsay information prompted Mkhwebane to opine to Rampedi and Wa Africa that the motive for the investigation she did not know about until they told her was “to cause confusion” and that the apparent probe “was a bold threat to stop her from doing her job.”

Wa Afrika and Rampedi have found a suitable place for their considerable talents with Survé, whose Independent Media SA group scored a massive R1bn investment from the PIC.

Survé has used his titles not only to promote himself and his various companies regularly but also to attack fellow media houses and journalists who exposed Survé’s dodgy dealings with former PIC CEO Dan Matjila.

In December 2017, just as the ANC’s Nasrec conference was drawing to a close, the PIC made a last-minute R4.3bn investment in Survé’s Ayo Technology Solutions, but in April 2018, a further R3bn investment by the PIC in Survé’s new media “unicorn” Sagarmatha was scuppered.

In 2013 the PIC committed to a R2bn funding package for Survé’s Sekunjalo Consortium and which enabled the purchase of Independent Media.

Testimony at the Commission of Inquiry into the PIC heard how the original plan had been for a commercial bank to later step in and refinance R750m of the PIC’s loan. The PIC’s client, GEPF, in 2018 decided to impair the full value of the loan to Survé’s company.

The risks raised in the PIC’s 2012 due-diligence process report by credit risk analyst, Thipana Mongalo, included an industry outlook for newspapers which would be INMSA’s Independent Media’s primary revenue generator.

Mongalo told the PIC commission, “There was a concern that the print media industry is a sunset industry as exhibited by the declining circulation figures. There was a further concern of INMSA’s Independent Media’s ability to transition the model to a digital domain.”

Survé has decimated the standing and reputations of the once influential stable of titles in the Independent Group which are now not even pale shadows of their former selves.

How apt then that Wa Afrika and Rampedi should, at last, find a home with Survé who, in 2016, pulled all his publications out of the self-regulatory Press Council, thus enabling his stable of journalists to circumvent the Code of Ethics and Conduct for South African print and online media.

In his letter of resignation to Sunday Times editor Bongani Siqoko, Rampedi wrote, “I would like to reiterate that the truth is like toxic waste. Even if you bury it, it has a funny way of emerging from the surface. And I hope Sunday Times and TMG as a media company would be on the right side of history when that truth eventually comes out.”

Many have suggested that the only way for Rampedi and Wa Afrika to defend their conduct at the Sunday Times was to appear at either the Nugent or the Zondo Commission. They have not taken up the challenge.

After leaving the Sunday Times, Rampedi who goes by the name Mr Putin on Twitter, started the now defunct AAfrican Times, with the then communications minister Faith Muthambi congratulating the new editor on its first edition.

One of the most enlightening threads on the difference in the approach of the then Sunday Times investigative team and that of journalists at Business Day can be found in a tweet thread by Songezo Zibi, who was BD editor at the time.

Zibi, like Pearlie Joubert – Wa Afrika, Rampedi and Hofstatter’s former colleague – was deeply uncomfortable with the unethical reporting of the Sunday Times investigative unit at the time.

Joubert resigned and broke ranks and later wrote to retired Judge Frank Kroon, who had been appointed to head a sham panel, that “until February 2015 I was part of the ‘investigative unit’ at the Sunday Times where I was full time employed as a senior journalist for almost two years. I resigned from the Sunday Times then because I found it morally untenable to stay and be part of the paper’s investigative unit and be associated with the newspaper”.

In 2018 Kroon told the Nugent Commission of Inquiry into SARS that a statement that had been released by the board he chaired, stating that the covert unit was unlawful, was not “thought through properly and in fact, were incorrect… certainly, the establishment on its own would [be] quite lawful”.

Kroon told Judge Nugent that the board “had relied entirely on the information given to them by Moyane, former chief operating officer Jonas Makwakwa and the Sikhakhane report as well as the now withdrawn KPMG report. In addition to saying the unit was unlawful, the reports also said that the unit had spied on former president Jacob Zuma, state officials and that it owned a brothel”.

It was these reports that the original Sunday Times investigative unit had relied on to develop their series of articles.

Not unlike another disgraced editor, Steven Motale of “Forgive us President Zuma” fame, who joined forces with Survé before the ANC’s 2017 elective conference, Rampedi and Wa Afrika have found a suitable platform once again, just days before one of the most important post-1994 elections that could make or break not only the ANC but also Cyril Ramaphosa. Yesterday once more, indeed… DM

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