Sekunjalo Downplays Ill Treatment of Africans in China


China is showing us the true meaning of ubuntu – I am because you are – and showing itself to be a responsible global leader not only concerned with the needs of its own citizens. The world will not forget the assistance which China provided when the stakes were high.

Shannon Ebrahim IOL 29/3/2020

As Chair of the African Union, South Africa is deeply concerned about reports of alleged ill-treatment of African nationals in China, including the forceful testing, quarantining for COVID-19, and other inhuman treatment.

South Africa welcomes the action taken by the AU Commission Chairperson, Mr. Moussa Faki Mahamat, to summon the Chinese Ambassador in Addis Ababa to provide an explanation, and express the AU’s deep concern about this matter.

DIRCO statement 12/4/2020

On 12 April this year and after widespread international condemnation of discriminatory treatment of Africans living in China, South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) issued a statement in this regard.

This followed viral social media posts which proved that this was happening and so the DIRCO media release was not unexpected given that in March, President Cyrl Ramaphosa was elected as Chairperson of the African Union.

The following timeline tracks Sekunjalo Independent Media’s coverage of this situation in comparison to other media outlets:

  • 12 April: On the same day that DIRCO issued its statement the EFF responded by issuing a statement condemning this anti-African persecution in China.
  • 13 April: Al Jazeera gives extensive coverage to this discrimination which includes forced eviction of Africans from their homes, multiple compulsory Covid-19 tests and denial of entry into shops, hotels and public buildings.
  • 14 April: Two days after DIRCO issued its statement, Iqbal Survé’s KZN newspaper, The Mercury, carried a Chinese government rebuttal of it which effectively asked you to disbelieve the video clips which had, by then, been viewed millions of times all over the world and which had ignited a firestorm of media revulsion, not least in South Africa – see (in chronological order) here and here and here  and here and here and here and here
  • 15 April: Three days after the release of the DIRCO media statement, the IOL website carried an interview Sekunjalo’s Group Foreign Editor, Shannon Ebrahim, conducted with Li Nan, chargé d’affaires of the Chinese Embassy in South Africa.

Read it for yourself.

Puff piece

It contains no word of the criticism by Ramaphosa as head of the African Union of the arbitrary discrimination Africans are facing in China and is, instead, a mutual praise fest – a puff piece of note as the headline China is a friend indeed to SA in fight against Covid-19 accurately indicates.

  • 18 April: The ANC calls on the Communist Party of China (there is no other party) through Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu to launch an investigation in the alleged abuses.
  • 19 April: Shannon Ebrahim files an article headlined ANC calls on communist party of China to act swiftly on mistreatment of Africans.

Here’s the URL:

If, however, you click on it, you will find that it does not load.

Try it for yourself.

Hurriedly disabled

What seems to have happened is that the moment Ebrahim’s article was posted, there was a complaint from the Chinese embassy in South Africa and the online article was hurriedly disabled.

Ironically, it was picked up on a website called ‘Read It Now Online’ which reflects news of interest from around the world.

Here is the URL:

At the bottom of the article it credits IOL and Shannon Ebrahim

(While the fact that this article does not load on the IOL website might merely be a manifestation of a grotesque level of incompetence, there is another example and that relates to the Sekunjalo’s Fake News ombudsman system. If you type into the search bar of your computer and click on it, you are told that the site is ‘under construction’. It has been ‘under construction’ for a month …)

What is significant in analyzing South African media coverage of this situation is that Sekunjalo Independent Media made no attempt to interview South Africans living in China about how they experienced this persecution.

Naspers, constantly attacked in Iqbal Survé’s newspapers did – see here.

So did the SABC.

On 21 April, the Chinese government’s propaganda counter-offensive, – using Sekunjalo Independent Media, moved into top gear – see here and here and here – and this is obviously the prelude to SIM carrying many such submitted PR statements as purported  news articles in future.

Former Iqbal Survé employees Dougie Oakes and Siphiwe Nodwele and Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya have publicly expressed uncontested  views on the fact that ethical journalism is an alien concept at Sekunjalo Independent Media and this is the second time that the company has downplayed reports about human rights violations in China.

Media freedom does not exist in China and any dissent is savagely suppressed.

In the Covid-19 context this was illustrated when Dr. Li Wenliang was arrested for trying to raise the alarm about the Coronavirus – a disease to which he later succumbed.

This sent shockwaves around the world but if you type the name Lee Wenliang into the IOL website search bar, the result is negative.

Nothing to see here

Your search for Lee Wenliang returned no results.

Nowhere in her interview with Li Nan does Shannon Ebrahim mention the fact that Iqbal Survé, at the insistence of his Chinese funders, terminated the column by Al Jazeera journalist, Azad Essa after he had sought to alert Sekunjalo Independent Media readers to the jailing and brainwashing by the Chinese government of more than a million Uighur Muslims in what has been described as ‘the largest incarceration of a minority since the Holocaust’.

Here’s the assessment of Zimbabwean journalist Tatenda Gwaambuka of this  act of pro-China censorship by Iqbal Survé:

Twenty percent of Independent Media is now held by two Chinese firms. To put it in context, the company is the second largest media company in South Africa and a fifth of it is Chinese owned. This gives the firms immense decision-making power in the company with the effect of becoming China’s “most ardent cheerleader“. True to expectations, Essa was shown to the door in a dramatic fashion. There were no apologies or explanations given apart from some impending “redesigning”. Chinese forays into African media have become more apparent as its propaganda machinery pushes a less odious picture of the country to counter Western demonisation. Africa finds itself a pawn in a game of thrones yet again, and Azad Essa can bear testimony of the fact.

On page 156 of their book Paper Tiger – Iqbal Survé and the downfall of Independent Newspapers – the authors Alide Dasnois and Chris Whitfield write:

Reporting on China, with which Survé had business interests, also became fraught. In 2014 the Nobel Peace Summit in Cape Town was boycotted by laureates because the South African government at the time buckled to Chinese pressure and would not give the Dalai Lama a visa to visit the country. The new Cape Times editors seemingly chose to censor Archbishop, Desmond Tutu’s attack on the government and ran a small story that ignored the central issues.

This pro-China censorship subordinates Sekunjalo Independent Media’s reporting to the demands of China to the detriment of Africa’s citizens and it was also mentioned on page 198 of Paper Tiger without a rejoinder from Iqbal Survé’s main publicist, Adri Senekal de Wet who is a vociferous proponent of ethical journalism:

Meanwhile, Sekunjalo Independent Media’s Chinese investors were rewarded with numerous articles including, in October 2017, front-page leads about the 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China, written by special envoy Gasant Abarder.

And critical pieces about the Chinese government were not welcomed, as Azad Essa, who wrote a foreign affairs column for the group, discovered. Essa focused a September 2018 column on the more than one million Uyghur Muslims held by the Chinese authorities in internment camps. He explained later that he was fully aware of the stakes held by China International Television Corporation and the China-Africa Development Fund in Independent Media and knew ‘that the column might ruffle feathers’.

The piece was published in print in Independent’s newspapers around the country. But when Essa asked when it would be published online, he was told by email that a decision had been taken not to publish it electronically. ‘When I asked for clarity from online editors, I received no response.

‘This morning my weekly column was cancelled. I was told the following: “With the redesign of our papers and the new system, there are changes regarding the columnists being used”

‘Is this the future of corporate censorship in SA?’ asked Essa.

What is relevant in the context of this subject and this pro- China censorship is that Survé duly reaped the rewards of Sekunjalo’s ethos of unethical journalism – see here and here.

Censorship by omission is the hallmark of the propagandist which is why the word omissions is specifically included in the SA Press Council’s code of ethical conduct to which Daily Maverick  but not Sekunjalo Independent Media subjects itself:

The media shall:

1.2 present news in context and in a balanced manner, without any intentional or negligent departure from the facts whether by distortion, exaggeration or misrepresentation, material omissions, or summarization;

Unlike Daily Maverick and other media outlets, Sekunjalo Independent Media operates in terms of its own, effectively non-existent ombudsman system and its home-formulated press code specifically and deliberately does not contain the word ‘omit’ or any reference to omissions.

Here’s another example of how this works in practice and, as The Times pointed out in an editorial, this approach cannot, in any way, be reconciled with ethical journalism.

On 29 March, an article by Shannon Ebrahim, headlined Africa needs China’s aid now more than ever appeared in all Iqbal Survé’s newspapers and was posted on his IOL website.

On 16 April, the American embassy in South Africa reacted to the Covid-19 crisis by increasing its Covid-19 aid to South Africa fivefold and it issued a press release in this regard.

The next day the doyen of South African foreign affairs reporters, Peter Fabricius who, like more than a hundred other top news personnel used to work for Iqbal Survé, posted an article on Daily Maverick headlined US to help SA in battle against Covid-19.

Shannon Ebrahim, as Sekunjalo’s Foreign Editor would also have received this press release by the American embassy and must have been aware of this but you will find no reference to such charitable gestures by the USA on the IOL website.

This was not the only example of pro-China censorship by omission by Sekunjalo.

On 19 February, Daily Maverick carried a Reuters article headlined China revokes three Wall Street Journal reporters’ credentials’.

Sekunjalo also uses Reuters articles but, if you type that headline into the search bar on the IOL website, you get the following response:

Nothing to see here

Your search for China revokes three Wall Street Journal reporters’ credentials’. returned no results.

The sub-editors on all Sekunjalo newspapers and on the IOL website would have received that Reuters article but were clearly under instructions to carry nothing which reflects adversely on China’s pervasive and utterly oppressive censorship.

And what of the African News Service (ANA) the former SAPA, in which Iqbal Survé allegedly invested a billion rand so that it take over from wire service giants like Reuters Africa and Bloomberg Africa in telling Africa’s story, but which has lost its best staff recently?

I can find no evidence that ANA has filed any articles related to the Covid-19-linked victimisation of Africans in China and that dereliction of manifest duty would undoubtedly have been under duress and as a result of of de facto company policy. How, then, can ANA promote itself as a credible and trustworthy alternative to Reuters Africa and Bloomberg Africa?

How can the disabling of Shannon Ebrahim’s article on the IOL website be reconciled with the following extract from a letter Iqbal Survé wrote to staff in December 2013?

All our stories must adhere to the highest standards required.

This means they have to be balanced, fair and accurate. What they can’t be is one sided, inaccurate and prejudicial.

Furthermore, how can the censorious disabling of Shannon Ebrahim’s article on the IOL website in order to withhold from public view the ANC’s implied criticism of China be reconciled with the following statement on the Sekunjalo website?

People are at the heart and soul of Independent Media. Independent’s growing unique online audience is close to three million viewers, and their print publications have a loyal readership in excess of six million readers.

Here’s  a comment from Sekunjalo’s senior investigative journalist, Ayanda Mdluli, who is a leading Iqbal Survé praise singer – see here and here and here:

As media houses and journalists we have a duty to educate and inform the masses.

What, then, does he say about Sekunjalo’s pro-China censorship and about  Survé’s failure to make any meaningful financial or material contribution to alleviating the plight of ‘the masses’ who are adversely affected by the Covid-19 lockdown while he, as a senior reporter who reflects the Sekunjalo ethos attacks the Oppenheimer family who have contributed R3 billion?

I ask the question because Iqbal Survé claims to be a billionaire and philanthropist, he lives, surrounded by bodyguards, in R140 million apartments in Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront, he recently spent R200 million to promote himself as a caring  and charitable humanitarian and, in these troubled times, he has called for a chain reaction of caring, outreach, awareness and fulfilling the needs of others’  while, at the same time, refusing to repay the overdue R1 billion GEPF loan to the long-term detriment of almost two million government employees and current civil service pensioners.

After yet another egregious display of unethical journalism Sam Sole wrote a despairing response headlined The Soul Is Dead at Independent Media.

Would it not be more accurate to say that it has been sold – to China?

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Ed Herbst started his news career as a photographer with the Natal Witness in 1968 but quickly switched to reporting while retaining an interest in photography. He joined the SABC in its Pretoria news office as a camera reporter in 1977, one year after television was introduced in South Africa. In 1978 he was seconded to the SABC’s Windhoek office for six months to cover the run-up to the country’s UN-monitored election and was then posted to the SABC’s Sea Point news office. He asked for early retirement in 2005 because of pervasive SABC corruption, news censorship and unaddressed abusive treatment of staff. From 2007 to 2009 he was employed as a consultant in the media department of the Cape Town municipality but became a pensioner when personal circumstances forced him to retire. He now writes without remuneration for local websites about the interface between media and politics. He is writing a book on media capture after 1994.