Puzzled readers of Independent Newspaper titles may wonder why they’re being treated to front-page stories about capsized cruisers on the Yangtze River. Ed Herbst joins the dots
Helen Zille wrote an open letter to Iqbal Survé, owner of the Sekunjalo Independent Media newspapers, on 18 January in 2015, saying: “Conducted in parallel with the extremely dangerous phenomenon of ‘state capture’, the process of consolidating our democracy is endangered by ‘media capture’ and the incremental obliteration of critical voices.”
And on 13 September this year Tatenda Gwaambuka, writing for www.africanexponent.com, said: “The disheartening fact is that China is acting in cahoots with African governments to curtail citizens’ freedoms. It is as pathetic as it is depraved. Surely after recovering from the great political molestation of the colonial era, Africa deserves better friends.”
The antipathy of the African National Congress to media freedom mirrors that of its National Party predecessors. Each controlled the SABC. Each sought to intimidate newspapers with threats of draconian control, but eventually abandoned that approach. The National Party then established The Citizen in 1976 through fertilizer magnate Louis Luyt, secretly using money from an SA Defence Force slush fund.
The ANC bought control of a dozen former Argus Group newspapers in 2013 by using Public Investment Corporation funding – a R1-billion soft loan to Iqbal Survé’s company, Sekunjalo.
Among the shareholders of Iqbal Survé’s Independent News Media company are two Chinese companies, Interacom Investment Holding Limited-China International Television Corporation (CITVC) and China-Africa Development Fund (Cadfund) which have a 20% stake in the Sekunjalo newspapers.
Among the first senior staff to be dismissed by Survé were Cape Times editor Alide Dasnois and political reporter Donwald Pressly. Each had published articles about the November 2011 Sekunjalo fishing fleet tender scandal on the watch of former Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson that saw SMIT Amandla Marine lose the contract to operate and maintain our marine patrol and research vessels, leaving our oceans vulnerable to plunder by foreign fishing vessels for several years thereafter.
Since then, more than 100 of the newspaper company’s finest talents have left Survé’s employ, having resigned, asked for early retirement, been dismissed or been retrenched.
In a media release dated 9 December 2013, shortly after the Sekunjalo takeover of the Indy newspapers, Survé stated that… “In conclusion I want to state for the record that I, together with the leadership of this group, remain fully committed to the editorial independence of all our journalists and editors. To suggest otherwise is patently false and devoid of truth.”
In 2015, Zille expressed her concerns about Survé’s stewardship of the Indy newspapers in a prescient open letter in which she invoked the threat of “media capture” and the “incremental obliteration of critical voices”.
She was vindicated when the news broke recently that Survé, apparently after pressure from the Chinese government and his Chinese shareholders, had terminated the services of Azad Essa, an Al Jazeera journalist who contributed a weekly column to Survé’s newspapers. His contributions were ended because he had written an article which was critical of Chinese oppression of Muslim minorities in the northwest of China.
What should be noted is that immediately after the takeover of the Indy newspapers by Survé, he sent a deputy editor, Yunus Kemp, to China to study propaganda methods in a country where media freedom does not exist. This was revealed in a July 2015 Daily Maverick article by Marianne Thamm headlined “Media freedom: South African government sees how it’s done in China”.
Here is the text of Azad Essa’s Facebook post after he was notified of his banning: “I have been writing a foreign affairs column for Independent Media for the past 2 years. I have focussed on neglected issues around the globe, zooming in on race, immigration, poverty, and prejudice.
“This week I wrote about how Chinese authorities are holding more than 1 million Uyghur Muslims in internment camps in the Xinjiang province.
“I was fully aware that China International Television Corporation (CITVC) and China-Africa Development Fund (Cadfund) have a stake in Independent Media and that the column might ruffle feathers.
“But the piece was published in print in newspapers around the country on Wednesday. When I enquired when the piece would go up online, I received a mail saying ‘a decision has been made not to publish it online’.
“When l asked for clarity from online editors, l 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? And is this where the continent’s future relationship with China is headed?
“I defy you to find a single equivalent instance in South African media history where a newspaper owner, financially beholden to a foreign country, has deferred to that country and dismissed a journalist for writing a report critical of human rights abuses and oppression of minorities in the funding country.”
This was not, however, the first time that Survé had dismissed a journalist as result of outside pressure and, on the previous occasion, the pressure came from the ANC.
He fired Sunday Independent editor Wally Mbhele in May 2017 because Mbhele had angered the ANC when this newspaper published an article about Brian Molefe – widely perceived to be a Gupta stooge and utterly corrupt – being parachuted into Parliament. Survé complained to the Press Council about the Sunday Times exposé of this treatment of Mbhele and the complaint was dismissed.
Do the dismissals of Wally Mbhele and Azad Essa not indicate that Survé’s employees lack journalistic autonomy and can be dismissed at the whim of his political overlords?
Azad Essa then posted an article on the Foreign Policy website which was headlined “China is buying African media’s silence”. “In South Africa, Independent Media – partly owned by the China International Television Corporation and China-Africa Development Fund – is replete with sycophantic praise for Chinese investment, lacks critical engagement with the much-ballyhooed BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) project, and fails to ask basic questions on Chinese motives in Africa. Instead of holding power to account, it has become its most ardent cheerleader.”
There is overwhelming evidence to prove Essa’s contention about the fawning coverage of China in Iqbal Survé’s newspapers and, if you doubt that, just Google “IOL + China”.
Then there are the pro-Chinese articles written by Survé himself.
The dwindling number of Cape Times readers know only too well about this obeisance to China and Survé’s Chinese funders because events in that country which have no relevance whatsoever to their lives, regularly feature as front page lead articles.
On 1 June 2015, a cruise ship capsized on the Yangtze River, thousands of kilometres from Cape Town and 452 lives were lost.
It is unlikely that any Cape Times readers were amongst the bereaved. So why did the Cape Times – a week after this tragedy – have, as its front page lead, an article headlined “China mourning as one”?
From the moment of the Sekunjalo takeover, white staff were threatened in writing, served with letters from Survé’s lawyers and purged. Every effort was made by the Cape Times under editor Aneez Salie to portray white South Africans as innately racist and to distance the newspaper from its traditional readership, most of them white and resident in the “leafy suburbs”. Its disgraceful attack on UCT, its vice-chancellor Dr Max Price and its deification of the Fallist fascists and their leader, the misogynistic arsonist, Chumani Maxwele, is proof of that.
The Indy newspapers recently changed their layout style to resemble the Sunday Times and Salie, in an accompanying editorial on 3 September, explained the rationale behind his anti-white stance which is the antithesis of Nelson Mandela’s lifelong campaign – nation-building through reconciliation.
“No longer do we serve primarily the descendants of the English colonists.
“We are humbled and deeply grateful that you the readers warmed to this approach with loyal support, rejecting calls for a boycott by those colonial, unrepentant racists who once prostituted the Cape Times for their narrow political ends.”
That is typical Cape Times fake news because the Audit Bureau of Circulation figures show that there has been a steady decline in subscribers since the Sekunjalo takeover and sales have now dropped below 30,000 for the first time in that newspaper’s modern history.
With the recent migration of Andrew Donaldson’s “Famous Grouse” column to Politicsweb, for many of those old readers the only remaining reason to buy the Saturday edition of the Weekend Argus no longer exists.
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