The Covert Crusade Against Dr Iqbal Survé: A Strategic Assault to Shut Down Independent Media

Independent Media chairman Dr Iqbal Surve. File Picture: Ian Landsberg / Independent Newspapers

Independent Media chairman Dr Iqbal Surve. File Picture: Ian Landsberg / Independent Newspapers

Published Dec 21, 2023


By Edmond Phiri

Right at the height of the holiday season, Dr Iqbal Survé, the Chairman of Sekunjalo, has again become a target of a sophisticated propaganda offensive.

The campaign is spearheaded by mainstream media and amplified by suspected paid social media accounts. Disappointingly, News24 rehashed an old, discredited article titled, “How Iqbal Survé’s companies paid Niehaus, Pandor’s daughter, ANC MPs”. But News24 fails to answer one simple question - what was wrong with those transactions?

The negative campaign is designed to undermine the public stature of Dr Survé and his companies. But the ultimate aim is to destabilise and shut down one of South Africa’s major media houses, Independent Media, especially in the run-up to the imminent 2024 general elections. Unlike its industry peers, Independent Media has maintained an objective and critical stance and reporting on the current government, refusing to conform to the prevailing white-owned media bias and silence.

ThumaMina Media Group and Independent Media’s Stance

Immediately after the rise of President Cyril Ramaphosa, the “ThumaMina Media Group,” a collective of mainstream media journalists engaged in crafting a favourable public narrative for Ramaphosa, was formed. Independent Media, in a bold display of journalistic integrity, was not a party to that alliance.

Throughout the Ramaphosa administration, mainstream media displayed a marked reluctance to critique governmental failures. In stark contrast, Independent Media courageously exposed the massive PPE looting during the COVID-19 pandemic, exposing the government’s anti-corruption facade. The PPE looting scandal revealed that Ramaphosa’s message that he was fighting corruption was just political rhetoric. Worse, Ramaphosa’s own confidant, Khusela Diko, was one of the people implicated.

Phala Phala Scandal: A Testament to Fearless Journalism

The Phala Phala corruption scandal was one of the notable instances where Independent Media led the charge in investigative journalism, uncovering a scandal that captured global attention. Meanwhile, mainstream media, particularly News24, seemed more intent on discrediting these revelations and conducting public relations for Ramaphosa. One of the mainstream media houses even flew to Dubai to interview the phoney character used as a deflection in the Phalaphala scandal to lend credence to Ramaphosa’s public defence. But the public were not fooled.

Media as a Battlefield

As the national elections draw near, the media landscape becomes a critical arena of influence. The intensified attacks on Dr Survé and Independent Media go beyond personal vendettas; they represent a concerted effort to dismantle a vital source of unfiltered information, independent reporting, and media voice. The plan is to use the system to destroy and shut down the most critical voice holding the government to account, exposing the abuse of taxpayers’ monies and corruption. All that they want is a “ThumaMina” media only.

Debunking the Allegations Against Survé and his Associated Companies

Without a corruption scandal or being engaged in any corruption or corrupt activity, Survé was a difficult target for the media. Since there was no scandal around him or his companies, they created and engineered one. The PIC Commission, also known as Mpati Commission, became the biggest platform and opportunity to cast a cloud around Survé. The narrative accusing Dr Survé of misusing Public Investment Corporation (PIC) funds – legitimised by the Mpati Commission – overlooked the commission’s terms of reference: to scrutinise the PIC and its myriad internal processes, not Sekunjalo or its subsidiaries.

Over fourteen companies participated as witnesses in the inquiry, yet the media specifically targeted Survé and his associated companies. The Steinhoff corruption scandal and those of white-owned companies were swept under the rug, or ignored by the mainstream.

The Mpati Commission was weaponised and opportunely used to cast aspersions on Dr Survé, exploiting the absence of any actual scandal. The skewed reporting by the white mainstream media served to tarnish his reputation and sow doubts about his integrity.

Founded in the late 1990s, Sekunjalo has been a significant company in South Africa’s business environment, steering clear of scandals until the Mpati Commission saga. The companies’ ethos and integrity kept them clear of scandals. The acquisition of Independent Media marked a turning point in Dr Survé’s public perception, transforming him from a celebrated business figure to a media scapegoat.

Echoes of Historical Propaganda Techniques

The mainstream media’s relentless repetition of falsehoods about Dr Survé mirrors tactics from the Nazi propaganda playbook, ingraining these fabrications in public consciousness. Notably, the Heath Commission’s report, which debunked several inaccuracies of the Mpati Commission report, was ignored by mainstream media because it contradicted their preferred narrative.

The recent article on Dr Survé’s alleged payments serves as the newest chapter in this smear campaign, augmented by a coordinated assault on social media platforms. These are not isolated incidents but elements of a broader strategy to delegitimise Dr Survé and justify the ongoing efforts to destroy and shut down Independent Media before the 2024 elections.

This covert crusade against Dr Iqbal Survé is more than a mere attack on an individual or a corporation; it is a strategic assault on media freedom and the public’s right to unbiased information. Critical reporting exposing corruption by the government and its leaders is not just a matter of journalistic integrity, but a pivotal fight for the essence of democratic media in South Africa. It is saddening to see banks, courts, and the media used to destroy another business and the media house. What is appalling is that the same institutions that are supposed to be the guardians of our democracy are the ones used to destroy it.

* Edmond Phiri is an independent writer and commentator.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.