Independent Media chair Iqbal Survé dismissed claims that the group, which includes titles The Star and Cape Argus, has compromised its editorial independence and alleged that deputy finance minister Mondli Gungubele has a vendetta against it.

Mondli Gungubele. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/BRENTON GEACH
Mondli Gungubele. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/BRENTON GEACH

This emerged from Survé’s second day of testimony at the commission of inquiry into affairs of the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), chaired by retired judge Lex Mpati.

“I wrote a letter to all our editors to tell them to remain independent and not take sides. Don’t get involved in factional battles inside the ANC ... They want Independent Media to take sides. The editors can tell you themselves. The day we no longer have objectivity, our business is gone,” Survé said stated in response to a question from commissioner Emmanuel Lediga.

Survé also alleged that deputy finance minister, Mondli Gungubele, is out to destroy Sekunjalo (his family’s investment holding company), and the Independent Group because the latter is so editorially independent.

“I have heard from sources I trust that Gungubele is going to use taxpayers’ money to come after us, to crush Independent Media, to crush Sekunjalo. He is doing this because we don’t toe the line. He has been saying this to members of the national executive committee of the ANC,” he told the inquiry.

According to PIC inquiry commissioner Gill Marcus, former PIC CEO Dan Matjila sent Survé and Independent Media a letter of default in August last year, regarding its loan and accrued interest of R1.3bn advanced to fund the acquisition of Independent by Sekunjalo. Survé confirmed that none of this loan has been serviced since then.

Survé claims to have made a number of efforts to resolve the situation. First, by making an offer to buy out the PIC’s stake, and secondly, to recapitalise the group, but the PIC has not engaged with him and is therefore to blame. 

“We made an offer to buy out the PIC’s stake in Independent Media. Look at the conduct of the PIC and Government Employees Pension Fund. They have treated us with complete disdain. The first thing that you would do is engage with us, but they they point blank refused to do this,” said Survé.

Survé admitted he is unsure about what will happen to the group.

“This is what keeps me up at night. All the other media houses are going through this. That is why I have taken my own money and put it into Independent. For whatever reasons, the PIC does not want to engage. Or we have to do the most difficult thing and retrench half the people. I am not tough enough to do that.”