The Citizen, Zondo Commission and Project Wave

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Sekunjalo Rogue Unit

“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.”

Sydney Mufamadi’s affidavit to the Zondo commission Politicsweb 26/1/2021

“I can also confirm that in 2016/2017 ANA had a contract with the SSA to provide multi-media training for SSA analysts and interns across Africa, and to use its platforms, in particular the African Independent newspaper, to carry positive stories about South Africa and the South African government,” Angamuthu said.”

African News Agency (ANA) CEO Vasantha Angamuthu IOL 26/1/2021

On 3 November 1978, Rand Daily Mail reporters Chris Day and Mervyn Rees broke the news that The Citizen newspaper had been started with money from a South African Defence Force slush fund in the hopes of countering adverse publicity about the National Party government led by Prime Minister B J Vorster.

At the time I was, as a television news reporter for the SABC, stationed in Windhoek to cover the first universal suffrage election in Namibia which was being monitored by the United Nations.

I remember being stunned by the RDM front page headline, ‘It’s All True’ a reference to the rumours which had been swirling for months about the dubious origins of the funding which would have been required to start a newspaper like The Citizen.

That Sunday, Rapport also headlined the story on its front page with a single word, ‘Swendelary’ – a swindle.

Fast forward to 25 January and Dr Sydney Mufamadi testifies under oath before the Zondo Commission in Johannesburg, answering questions from evidence leader, advocate Paul Pretorious.

The relevant evidence pertaining to what I personally regard as Muldergate Redux starts at one hour six minutes and 36 seconds of this YouTube clip.

Mufamadi’s evidence was buttressed by the evidence of Loyiso Jafta, the State Security Agency Acting Director-General, who also testified on 26 January.

They told the Zondo Commission that, among the illegal projects undertaken by the State Security Agency, was the contemporary version of the ‘Info Scandal’ of the 1970s which saw The Citizen newspaper being established.

‘Project Wave’ involved putting selected and bribable Stratcom-type journalists who supported the Zuma faction onto the State payroll using money from a secret slush fund. R20 million in slush fund money was also laundered to Iqbal Survé to set up a Bell Pottinger-type project – the African News Agency (ANA) – using the facilities from the cash-strapped SAPA wire service.

Irrefutable proof

Confronted by this irrefutable proof, Vasantha Angamuthu, the CEO of ANA, had to acknowledge that, in effect, ANA had been to the Zuma faction of the ANC exactly what The Citizen in its first years had been to the Vorster faction of the National Party – a public relations front to promote a positive image of a nefarious political party and to downplay its abuses.

Here’s the irony – Iqbal Survé and Adri Senekal de Wet, executive editor of the Sekunjalo Independent Media’s business supplement, have relentlessly accused rival media companies and their employees of being the current equivalent of Stratcom, a division of the state security apparatus of the National Party that specialized in misinformation and propaganda against opponents of the regime.

This culminated in Iqbal Survé – who claimed that he never interfered in the news coverage of his newspapers and that his editors had absolute autonomy – forcing them to carry front page articles on 20 April 2018 attacking rival newspaper companies  and several of the country’s most respected journalists as the current equivalent of the apartheid era dirty tricks division of the security police.

None of these articles, which attacked journalists such as amaBhugane’s Sam Sole, carried reporter bylines.  This made it obvious that the editors of these newspapers had carried the articles under duress and further evidence in this regard was provided before the Mpati Commission by Siphiwe Nodwele, one of Survé’s many former employees.

The South African National Editor’s Forum, described these attacks as ‘disgusting’ .

This did not deter de Wet from another evidence-free attempt at besmirching the reputation of Sole ten months later in which she claimed that he had written articles on behalf of the security establishment in the apartheid era.

Sole quickly provided clear proof to the contrary as did Brendan Seery, Deputy Editor of The Citizen

Here’s another irony.

State capture

It was to The Citizen that the inspector-general of intelligence (IGI), Setlhomamaru Dintwe, revealed that two former members of the discredited Sunday Times  investigative unit, Piet Rampedi and Mizilikazi wa Afrika – who now work for Iqbal Survé – were being investigated for their media role in state capture.

In his recent book, So, For the Record – Behind the Headlines in an Era of State Capture, Anton Harber provides what I believe is conclusive proof that Rampedi, while he was at the Sunday Times, was colluding with the disgraced SARS commissioner Tom Moyane to facilitate the hi-jacking of SARS on behalf of the Zuma faction of the ANC. Harber told me that he had received no response from Rampedi in this connection.

Survé has always sided with the Zuma faction.

In an excoriating attack on Iqbal Survé and the Sekunjalo Independent Media editorial ethos, the former political editor of the Cape Times, Dougie Oakes, revealed how all the editors of the Sekunjalo newspapers were summoned to a meeting with him and Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma prior to the ANC’s Nasrec conference in December 2017 – something without precedent in South African newspaper history.

Furthermore, in August of that year, Survé hosted the launch of a book about the role of Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma in African politics where he praised her leadership qualities.

Censorship by omission is the hallmark of the propagandist so it comes as no surprise that, while an article detailing the Zondo commission evidence of Sydney Mufamadi about Project Wave was carried in Survé’s newspapers and on the IOL website, it deliberately omitted to mention his evidence about Survé being paid R20 million from a security police slush fund for this project. You can read the article here.

I do not blame the author of the article for this unjustifiable omission.

Overwhelming evidence of managerial interference in the work of Iqbal Survé’s newsroom staff has been presented to the Mpati Commission and to the SANEF-established Satchwell Commission.

Editorial interference

The reporters inherited by ANA from SAPA are people of integrity and the editorial interference to which numerous references are made in the final report of the SANEF Commission of Inquiry into media ethics and in the book Paper Tiger – see here and here and here and here – as well as concerning management decisions saw a spate of resignations in 2019.

CEO Grant Fredericks, CFO Lisa de Villiers and four outstanding and highly-experienced reporters, Lindiz van Zilla, Catherine Rice, Chantal Presence and Gertrude Makhafola severed their ties with Iqbal Survé when he cancelled a monthly subscription of a million rand and moved them from the Sekunjalo payroll to the AYO payroll which, for the moment, is where  a rapidly- decreasing amount of Government Employee Pension Fund money resides

They clearly realised that it was not in their career interests to stay with a discredited media company which, according to court papers filed by the Public Investment Corporation in 2019, is effectively bankrupt.

It is thus doubtful whether Project Wave achieved anything of significant benefit to the country and to suggest that ANA can compete on an equal footing with African wire service giants such as Reuters and Bloomberg is absurd.

This is a matter of significant public interest because, according to media reports, Iqbal Survé has not repaid the money he was lent by the Public Investment Corporation in the ANC-facilitated purchase of the former Argus Group newspapers.

The EFF has called for the prosecution of those implicated in the testimony of Sydney Mufamadi  and Loyiso Jafta which will surely resonate favorably with Adri Senekal de Wet who has expressed a similar sentiment – in the media context – in the past.

The parallels between The Citizen under the aegis of National Party supporter and businessman Louis Luyt being funded from a military slush fund and Project Wave being funded from a security police slush fund under the aegis of Zuma faction supporter and businessman, Iqbal Survé, are clear and equally indefensible.

The departure of Luyt after the news broke that it had been founded with SADF slush fund money started its return to credibility and the respect it justifiably enjoys today.

The Public Investment Corporation has two matters before the courts which hopefully will resume in the near future – one to liquidate Sekunjalo and the other to recover the money invested in AYO.

Just as the The Citizen rose from the ashes after the Louis Luyt interregnum so, too, one hopes will the Indy one day return to being the company whose newspapers we once loved.

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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.