Stratcom to McCarthyism

The parallels between the clandestine and corrupt Muldergate and the clandestine and corrupt Project Wave are obvious.

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Stratcom Business Man Reading Newspaper Independent Iqbal Surve

This article traces a change in what I regard as the self-exculpatory propaganda tactics of Sekunjalo Independent Media. This was marked, I believe, by the recent transition from what I call the ‘Stratcom’ attack to the ‘McCarthyism’ attack.

Dr Survé challenged Sam Sole from amaBhungane to publicly state his involvement in apartheid journalism as a young reporter. He did that, with a “long and short answer”. To summarise, he was making all sorts of excuses for being a trooper in the army, and during, or after, that he wrote some articles that I think he is ashamed of. Adri Senekal de Wet IOL 2/5/2019

In much the same way as McCarthy and his cohort set about assassinating the character of innumerable people, the same tactic is being deployed today in South Africa, and its targets are Sekunjalo Investment Holdings and its chairperson, Dr Survé. Adri Senekal de Wet IOL 8/6/2021

In February 2019 Adri Senekal de Wet, the executive editor of Sekunjalo Independent Media’s Business Report, wrote an article devoid of proof in which she accused amaBhungane’s Sam Sole of having been a propaganda agent for the apartheid government.

In a denunciatory response, Brendan Seery, Deputy Editor of the Citizen provided a prescient prediction:

You, Adri, will end up on the wrong side of history. You may not realise this, but karma is not a brand of margarine.

Karma duly arrived in January this year at the Zondo Commission when it heard that the State Security Agency (SSA) sought to bribe journalists and media houses to report positively about former President Jacob Zuma and that the Iqbal Surve-linked African News Agency was happy to oblige.

The SSA called this ‘Project Wave’.

Here is the relevant extract from Sydney Mufamadi’s affidavit to the Zondo Commission:

Project Wave: This involved infiltrating and influencing the media at home and abroad in order, apparently, to counter bad publicity for the country, the then president and the SSA. The project was launched in the 2015/16 financial year with a budget of R24 million. One of the largest amounts issued for this project was one of R20 million given to the media agency, Africa News Agency (ANA), apparently for ‘services rendered’ for eight months.

Arthur Fraser personally signed off on this R20 million backhander from a security police slush fund in a move that was reminiscent of the Info Scandal during the days when John Vorster and Connie Mulder were in control of the National Party.

The parallels between the clandestine and corrupt Muldergate financing from a slush fund of a public relations campaign on behalf of the Vorster regime and the clandestine and corrupt Project Wave  financing from a slush fund of  a public relations campaign on behalf of the Zuma regime are obvious but Adri Senekal de Wet, the accuser of Sam Sole, has chosen not to write about these similarities. The hypocrisy is as obvious as it is nauseating because the Project Wave collaboration is as far removed from ethical journalism as darkness is from light.

The Project Wave collaboration was hardly surprising however because Iqbal Survé has always backed the Zuma faction and this, in turn, has earned him the support of people like Ace Magashule.  It has also earned him the enmity of the CR17 faction and of the official opposition which is the target of constant and venomous Fake News attacks in his newspapers – see here and here and here and here and here to cite a few examples

After accusing Sam Sole of being an apartheid-supporting journalist without producing any proof, Sekunjalo Independent Media at the behest of the company owner took this defamation a step further on 20 April 2018.

Clearly obeying an order, every editor employed by Iqbal Survé carried a front page accusation that Sekunjalo’s rival media companies were guilty of ‘Stratcom’ and ‘Gestapo’ tactics – something SANEF described as ‘disgusting’ as did Herman Manson of the MarkLives website.

This simultaneous and coordinated front-page smear in all Sekunjalo newspapers carried the imprimatur of the company owner.

It corroborated the evidence of one of Survê’s many former employees, Siphiwe Nodwele, who told the Zondo Commission under oath and from his personal experience that Survê dictates what his newspapers cover and that he controls their content with an iron fist. His sworn testimony was confirmed by another former Iqbal Survé employee, Kevin Hardy.

On 24 January last year, however, the Stratcom smear suddenly became legally risky and was not repeated thereafter in Sekunjalo newspapers.

Victory for truth

That was the day when Judge LT Modiba ruled that a similar accusation against Thandeka Gqubule-Mbeki and Anton Harber by the EFF was defamatory and awarded them R40 000 each plus costs.

Harber called this ‘A victory for truth.’

‘Stratcom’ has thus, of legal necessity, morphed into ‘McCarthyism’ according to Adri Senekal de Wet and this is clearly going to be  next victimhood campaign seeking to distract from the increasing number of companies severing their ties with the ‘other Mandela doctor’, his growing indebtedness to the Public Investment Corporation and other scandals.

Prior to making the Stratcom and McCarthyism accusations, De Wet had suggested that criticisms of her employer were ‘untrue and humiliating’.

Those guilty of De Wet’s perception of McCarthyism presumably include Absa, and FNB and BDO and the UK’s BT Group and Sasol all of whom have recently severed ties with Iqbal Survé-linked companies citing the fear of reputational damage and financial loss.

In Absa’s court papers, the company’s general counsel, Marthinus Janse van Rensburg, said:

‘The Sekunjalo Group and Dr Survé have for at least the past two years been the subject of serious allegations of disreputable and unlawful conduct that featured extensively in the public domain’ adding that Absa’s ‘ …continued association with customers in the Sekunjalo Group posed intolerable reputational, commercial, and legal risks.’

By Adri Senekal de Wet’s reasoning that must surely make Van Rensburg a McCarthyist as well.

Also guilty of McCarthyism, one assumes, is Webber Wentzel which used to appear for Iqbal Survé but successfully represented Maria Ramos recently after she was defamed by the Star.

How justified is De Wet’s claim, though, that her employer is being so appallingly persecuted without justification?

Should one not see it in the context of a differing perception, that of former Cape Times political editor Dougie Oakes who, in an article on his website stated ‘I’ve never come across a group where lies have been peddled with such glib assurance.’  The article is headlined Time to go, Iqbal.

De Wet, who had previously suggested that Fake News should be criminalised, remained silent for obvious reasons when the editor of the Star, Sifiso Mahlangu, authored a defamatory article which falsely claimed that Maria Ramos was guilty of ‘fixing the rand’.

Playing the Race Card and the Victim Card are Iqbal Survé’s stock responses to those who question his business approach but an increasingly-skeptical public seems less and less convinced by his politics of grievance.

On 12 May this year, parliament’s oversight committee on finance was told by Survé and his executives that companies linked to him are under attack by ‘hidden hands’ among which, apparently, are the National Treasury, the Public Investment Corporation and the JSE and the  Financial Sector Conduct Authority, banks, white people and rival media companies.

We had previously been told of the ‘Pravin Cabal’ which, Survê has suggested, even includes members of the judiciary.

(So far, however, his constant threats to sue his critics for billions have turned out to be yet another hot air fantasy.)

On 12 May the MPs weren’t persuaded by this AYO sabotage narrative, not least I suppose because no other local company is experiencing this alleged subversion. Among the sceptics was Deputy Finance Minister, David Masondo.

The MPs described these accounts about the alleged ‘McCarthyists’ as ‘conspiracy theories’ and DA MP, Geordin Hill-Lewis seemed to sum up the consensus:

“You use conspiracies and allegations of racism to explain away everything but it doesn’t work.

“The reason your media company is failing is because your readers are deserting you.”

This assertion of readership loss by Hill-Lewis is factual and a matter of record.

According to the book Paper Tiger (page 71) by former Iqbal Survê employees Alide Dasnois and Chris Whitfield, Dasnois wrote to Survê on 30 October 2013 saying the Cape Times was struggling and that its daily circulation was down to 31 500.

According to the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) it has now dwindled to less than 10 000 daily in a city which is home to three and a half million people – see here and here.

The Pretoria News now sells less than 2000 newspapers a day in a city of two and a half million people which is hardly surprising because, as Anton Harber points out, Sekunjalo Independent Media has become the Fox News of South Africa.

The market has spoken but, if Adri Senekal de Wet is to be believed, then tens of thousands of alienated former Independent Media subscribers and advertisers are ‘McCarthyists’.

Investment philosophy

According to the company’s website: Sekunjalo’s investment philosophy is that it is possible “to do good and to do well. The company also claims to Put people before profits.

On 12 May, the CEO of the Public Investment Corporation, Abel Sithole, told parliament’s Standing Committee on Finance that Iqbal Survê’s default debt to the PIC on the original 2013 loan to buy the Independent newspapers now exceeds a billion rand.

Survê made no commitment at that meeting or thereafter to reducing this debt in any way.

This will have distressed the country’s almost two million government employees and current civil service pensioners and we know that because on 5 May the Association for Monitoring and Advocacy for Government Pensions (AMAGP) issued an embittered media release:

Iqbal Survé, to the dismay and anger of almost two million government employees and GEPF pensioners, acknowledged to the Mpati Commission that he was still making no effort to repay the due amount on the PIC loan but was nevertheless servicing the loans of his Chinese funders.

They clearly don’t believe the Sekunjalo shtick about doing good and doing well and putting people before profits. Their media statements encapsulate their belief that government pensioners will derive absolutely no benefit from the R5 billion so controversially invested by Dan Matjila in the business ventures of the man who attended the Brett Kebble funeral and the Gupta wedding.

Adri Senekal de Wet will probably dismiss AMAGP as McCarthyists but are their concerns about the financial viability of Sekunjalo Independent Media not justified?

According to court papers filed by the PIC in a 2019 liquidation application

‘… the Respondent is commercially, if not factually insolvent and unable to pay its debts when they become due.’

Furthermore, according to a letter to the Independent Media and African News Agency staff by COO Takudzwa Hove on 5 May last year, the Survé-linked companies are in such dire financial straits that senior staff salaries were to be cut by 40% and the company contributions to post-retirement medical aid funds for retired employees were being cut by 50%.

Medical aid shortfall

I spoke to one such pensioner who told me that they had to divert R2000 a month from the household budget to make up this medical aid shortfall.

According to a Business Day editorial on 25 May, AYO Technology Solutions in which the PIC invested a questionable R4.3 billion, is now worth R1.9 billion. That money is being dissipated as quickly as possible in anticipation of PIC litigation.

The AYO shares for which former PIC CEO Dan Matjila irregularly paid R43 are now selling on the JSE for less than R7.

At the time of writing the news had broken that AYO staff members have been served with Section 189 retrenchment notices, so they would not have been impressed to read that Iqbal Survé had promised a million rand over four years in return for an exclusive photo opportunity with the ‘Tembisa Ten’ decuplets.

Sam Sole’s response after the evidence-free claim  of apartheid support against him by Adri Senekal de Wet was that ‘The soul is dead at Independent.’

Brendan Seery’s predicted karma – in the form of the Project Wave evidence at the Zondo Commission – validated Sole’s claim.

To quote Anton Harber again:

Secretly subverting the independence of the news media, it turns out, is another habit carried forward from the apartheid era

Would De Wet now have us believe that the Project Wave testimonies before the Zondo Commission, one of them being from Sydney Mufamadi, are proof that these laudable whistle blowers are guilty of ‘McCarthyism’ and guilty of concerns which are ‘untrue and humiliating’?

At least the apartheid-era Info scandal had an enduring and positive legacy – one of the best of our current newspapers, the Citizen.

 Speaking at the Johannesburg launch of Paper Tiger, Chris Whitfield predicted that only three Sekunjalo Independent Media titles are likely to survive Iqbal Survé’s catastrophic tenure as the owner of a once-respected newspaper company.

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