JSE-listed financial services group Ecsponent has acquired 49% of a digital media group owned by Shaka Sisulu, the grandson of Walter and Alber-tina Sisulu, whose reputation was dented in 2017 after he was named as a key figure in the ANC "war room" fiasco.
In addition to its acquisition of a minority stake in Truth Digital Group, Ecsponent has sold its Return on Innovation Africa (ROi) business to Sisulu’s iKGB Media Information Service for R7.3m, in a separate transaction. ROi will merge with iKGB.
In 2017 Sisulu, who ultimately won a R3m defamation case linked to the "war room" debacle, was named as the man behind an alleged covert campaign to promote the ANC and discredit opposition parties in the run-up to the local government elections in August 2016.
Sisulu told Business Day that ROi’s reputation-scoring offering, which measures the effect of media coverage on a firm’s reputation, "is particularly dear to me because my own reputation suffered significant damage through that period".
"Now when I walk into a client’s offices, we have a sense of empathy, we understand what it means when a brand has taken a hit, particularly when a lot of it’s based on conjecture, falsehoods and maliciousness."
"Certainly, it’s something that we’re hoping to put behind us…. But in a weird sort of way it’s enabling us probably to give a better service to our clients who suffer similar fates."
As a media-tracking business, ROi could monitor sentiment towards organisations and flag problems before they reached "a tipping point".
Ecsponent CEO Terence Gregory said Sisulu’s Truth Digital Group was a 100% black-owned digital media group "with an African growth agenda". He said that under Sisulu’s leadership, the firm "adds a team with a wealth of experience and is a perfect fit for the group".
Ecsponent had agreed to be "almost a silent investment partner, if you like, to allow the group to grow. We’ll provide our resources and potential funding going forward to allow Shaka to grow the digital group — size counts in that market." Truth Digital owns Plum, iKGB, ROi Africa and Retroviral.
Sisulu said ROi’s growth had been constrained by its lack of black ownership. Now ROi was "the only 100% black-owned media tracking business in SA".
"The business also wanted to get outside of SA as well, so we had a mutual vision in terms of growing that business. Our own view is to grow quite aggressively, organically and through acquisitions, over the next five years," Sisulu said.
Truth Digital was in discussions with a digital advertising business and a digital search company, he said.
In a stock exchange filing Ecsponent commented that "Shaka aims to create the largest, diverse and dynamic black-owned digital marketing group on the African continent".