The curious tale of Iqbal Survé, dirty journalism, Jacob Zuma and CR17 – Ed Herbst

Iqbal Survé is well-known in media circles as the maybe-medical-doctor-turned-businessman who got his hands on Public Investment Corporation funds to buy his own news empire. Survé wasted no time in using his print outlets to further his own interests and push a line that has been pro Jacob Zuma. The latter has coincided with a Survé campaign to ensure he has been photographed regularly in company with Zuma for all to see. After the Zuma faction was pushed out of power, Survé took on journalists who were allegedly involved in planting fake information in the Sunday Times about corruption-busters at the South African Revenue Service. Now these journalists have been attacking President Cyril Ramaphosa from their position at the front line of the inappropriately named Independent Media Group and, again, they appear to be using fake information to paint an ugly picture about a South African, this time no less than the president, who is working against the corrupt. Veteran journalist Ed Herbst unpicks the details. – Jackie Cameron

The Leak Wars – Part II

CR17 counters newspaper attack

By Ed Herbst*

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, the EFF, two controversial Sunday Independent journalists and a sophisticated social media bot campaign are the main actors at the heart of the Zuma faction’s fightback against the Cyril Ramaphosa presidency. – Connecting the dots of the Zupta fightback Adriaan Basson 19/8/2019

The selective leaking of e-mails and documents related to his campaign for the ANC presidency is part of a well-orchestrated and sinister agenda to undermine positive change in SA, says President Cyril Ramaphosa. – E-mail leaks ‘meant to thwart renewal’ Business Day 23/8/2019

According to Marianne Merten, that most accomplished of parliamentary reporters, President Cyril Ramaphosa comfortably dealt with the over-hyped CR17 funding scandal last week, the mountain was reduced to a molehill and he can get on with the more important work of pulling the country out of its current travails.

Ed Herbst

This article, written from a media perspective, seeks to assess the adverse impact that the reporting of Piet Rampedi and Mzilikazi wa Afrika has had over the past five years on the country’s international reputation, its political wellbeing and its ability to attract foreign investment.

In early 2015, I first became curious and then increasingly disturbed by their reporting when they started publishing one SARS ‘Rogue Unit’ article after another in the Sunday Times.

More than 30 such articles were published over the course of two years.

At the same time articles countering this narrative started appearing in City Press.

My first article on this iniquitous and enormously-damaging Sunday Times  reporting was headlined The Leak Wars and was posted in May 2015.

Here are three retrospectively-relevant paragraphs from that article:

The SARS ‘rogue unit’ story still has to play itself out and, given the venomous turf wars between the various factions within the ANC and its deployed proxies in other government departments such as the SAPS, the NPA, the NIA and various dysfunctional parastatals such as SAA and Eskom, nothing would come as a surprise anymore.

A closing thought: I remember reading the Sunday Times article about the ‘rogue unit’ at SARS running a brothel with a sense of disquiet, in part because it made no sense to me. Using such a business as a means of honey trap intelligence gathering would seem to offer little measurable benefit but the risk of exposure would be huge. That story was carried on 9 November last year and no proof has been provided of the bordello’s existence – what its address was, why it only operated in Durban and not in other cities, who worked there, how many worked there, who its patrons were, how the employees were recruited, what they charged, whether they were local women or had come from abroad, whether they were registered with SWEAT, how the brothel managed to escape police raids and avoid the complaints of neighbours and, above all, whether it was tax compliant.

Surely the Sunday Times followed up this obvious angle and can provide such information? It is obligated to do so because its article implies an unconscionable exploitation of women by a state organisation which answers to a political party that claims to promote and protect the rights of women – particularly those who are the most vulnerable.

As I pointed out in a subsequent article, there was no brothel – it was all part of the disgraceful Sunday Times-driven, pro-Zuma faction state capture project in which Piet Rampedi and Mzilikazi wa Afrika played a leading role. They were twice castigated by the Press Council, the newspaper apologised as did one of its reporters and, as Marianne Thamm has pointed 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.

One has to ask why.

In the definitive article on the people behind that Fake News period at the Sunday Times, Jacques Pauw says of Rampedi:

Rampedi started a newspaper called the African Times and has ever since raved like a wounded animal about “white racist monopoly capital”.

The fact that then communications minister Faith Muthambi – a mampara of prodigious proportions and a Zuma acolyte – congratulated Rampedi on the launch of the paper, says everything. Not long after the first edition, the press ombudsman ordered Rampedi to apologise to Pillay about yet another invented tirade.

Sunday Times reporter Pearlie Joubert was so disturbed at the time by this unethical reporting that, as a single mother with no other employment in prospect, she resigned in protest.

Here is the current assessment of Adriaan Basson, editor-in-chief of the News24 website, of the media cabal seeking to undermine the ANC’s attempt to redress the damage wrought during what Ramaphosa has justifiably called ‘nine wasted years’:

Which brings me to the Sunday Independent, the anti-Ramaphosa faction’s favourite leaking ground. After their careers came to a crash with the Sunday Times’ mea culpa over multiple wrong stories about what they dubbed the “Sars rogue unit”, journalists Mzilikazi wa Afrika and Piet Rampedi have reinvented themselves as front page writers of the Iqbal Survé-owned Sunday Independent.

Coincidentally, Survé hired them around the same time as he realised that the Mpati Commission into the Public Investment Corporation was not going to be kind to him or his businesses.

Week-after-week, Wa Afrika and Rampedi are fed bank statements, emails and inside information about Mkhwebane’s investigations into the president. Of course, there is nothing wrong about publishing these details if they are in the public interest – I would have done the same (and have published some of the emails on News24).

But context matters and the two gentlemen in question have to this day refused to accept responsibility for their anti-Sars stories that contributed significantly to the breaking-down of the taxman’s investigative capacity. Rampedi uses his Twitter account to denigrate other journalists who don’t agree with his world views and calls them a “cabal” (I am number 28 on his list).

Joel Netshitenzhe and Jeremy Gordin, in separate articles, have also expressed concern about the recent reporting of the Sunday Independent.

Netshitenzhe’s assessment in a Business Day article on 15 August related to an article How the CR17 campaign funds were channelled which was authored by them and was the front page lead in the Sunday Independent on 11 August:

Curiously, the authors of said article include two of the troupe of journalists who fed us the story about a “rogue unit” at the SA Revenue Service (Sars) while they were still in the employ of a rival publication. Their previous employer long ago apologised for the articles, which were presumably planted to justify the repurposing and destruction of Sars.

The “rogue unit” story helped lay the basis for the demolition of a world-class revenue collector, and SA is still smarting from the effects of that campaign. Interestingly, some of these journalists also led the crusade around the so-called Cato Manor “death squad”, which has now unravelled in the courts.

With reference to the above-mentioned article by Rampedi and Wa Afrika, Jeremy Gordin made the same point in a Politicsweb article:

First: how accurate is the article? Given that the two lead writers are Piet Rampedi and Mzilikazi wa Afrika, both of whom I watched operate while working at the Sunday Times, and given that it’s common cause that Rampedi has a dog in this fight, the facts and figures should only be accepted following careful scrutiny.

How did Rampedi et al get their hands on the material in the article? We don’t know for certain. But, given that the material is in the hands of Public Protector (PP) Busisiwe Mkhwebane, which is why it’s in the high court, we can make an educated guess.

What is really happening is that there clearly exists some sort of alliance intent on bringing Ramaphosa down.

This group appears to consist of – and this list is by no means exhaustive – the PP, the EFF, those in the ANC who oppose Ramaphosa and what he supposedly stands for (corruption-free government?), including, it has been suggested, ANC SG Ace Magashule and various other Zupta-ites, as well as individuals such as Iqbal Survé, owner of TSI, recently savaged at the PIC commission of inquiry, and Rampedi.

In his parliamentary reply last Thursday, Ramaphosa made a second salient point:

“I would therefore like to suggest that this parliament take responsibility for ensuring that the same standards of accountability and transparency are applied to all parties and leaders.”

This clearly demands a response from Rampedi and Wa Afrika and, indeed from Iqbal Survé because, in a letter to staff in 2013, he called for ethical journalism and the need to faithfully observe the audi rule.

Does this not place an onus on Rampedi and Wa Afrika to start revealing the donors to the presidential campaign of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma?

For example, did Adriano Mazzotti and Roy Moodley and Maria de Cruz Gomes and Philani Mavundla – who, it is alleged, is a tenderpreneur of note – make financial contributions to her campaign? She has refused to comment but donations to her campaign would not be without precedent.

As history has shown us, there have always been people willing to bankroll a Zuma-family initiative – ask the longest-living terminally ill man, Schabir Shaik and the Guptas and Angelo Agrizzi – they’ll tell you.

For that matter, why don’t they ask their employer, Iqbal Survé?

Generous benefactor

He very publicly endorsed the presidential campaign of Nkosazana Dlamini- Zuma, has shown himself to be a generous benefactor of individual ANC politicians and, according to an uncontested Mail & Guardian article, was happy to use his personal bank account to channel bribes from his confidante and business associate, Brett Kebble, to leaders of the ANC Youth League.

Furthermore, as Dougie Oakes, the former political editor at the Cape Times  has pointed out in an unchallenged article, Survé summoned all his editors to a meeting with Dlamini-Zuma immediately prior to the ANC’s Nasrec conference, something which, to my knowledge, is unprecedented in the history of South African newspapers.

What should be noted in this context is that employing reporters such as Rampedi and Wa Afrika to undermine Cyril Ramaphosa’s anti-corruption campaign is nothing new for Iqbal Survé.

While Steve Motale was editor of a rival newspaper, The Citizen, he wrote an unctuous apology to Jacob Zuma which was promptly published on Iqbal Survé’s rival online IOL news portal – again something without precedent in South African newspaper history.

With Motale having publicly proved his worth as a Zuma supporter, he was then hired by Survé in 2017 as editor of the Sunday Independent and immediately wrote a front-page article attacking Cyril Ramaphosa. It falsely depicted him as an exploitative roué and sexual predator who took advantage of women whose tertiary studies he was funding. One of Ramaphosa’s alleged victims – who is engaged and studying for a theology doctorate in Germany – says she has never met him.

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

Unsurprisingly, there were no follow-up articles and Motale – subsequently and like so many others – left Survé’s employ.

In the end, as Tom Eaton points out, it’s all manufactured outrage intended to drive a social media narrative against Cyril Ramaphosa which depicts him as a nefarious agent of the Bell Pottinger-derived White Monopoly Capital canard which the ANC has rejected.

There is nothing unlawful about making financial contributions to political parties or the campaigns of individual politicians because parties could not survive financially if the only income they are legally allowed to generate is membership fees.

In no way fazed by the manifest contempt of some of – but not all – their peers, Rampedi and Wa Afrika had a front page lead this past Sunday which effectively accused our judiciary of being innately corrupt and biased against Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.

And, all the while, the country’s 1.8 million government employees and current civil service pensioners wait for a return on the money lent to Iqbal Survé as an apparent consequence of his friendship with the PIC’s Dr Dan Matjila and then, ever-so-conveniently, written off.

We look forward to the findings in October of the Lex Mpati commission of inquiry into malfeasance at the Public Investment Corporation when Dr Dan Matjila was at the helm.

We also look forward to the publication in a few weeks’ time of the book by two of Survé’s many former employees, Alide Dasnois and Chris Whitfield. It will give us a better understanding of the disturbing abuse of mass media power and reach that occurred at the Independent Media titles after the Sekunjalo takeover in 2013.

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