Iqbal Survé gives evidence at the judicial commission of inquiry into the Public Investment Corporation, April 2 2019. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/PHILL MAGAKOE
Iqbal Survé gives evidence at the judicial commission of inquiry into the Public Investment Corporation, April 2 2019. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/PHILL MAGAKOE

Independent Media chair Iqbal Survé, who admitted to having failed to service a R1.3bn debt from the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) since August, has accused deputy finance minister Mondli Gungubele of trying to crush his newspaper business.

Gungubele, who tendered his resignation as chair of the asset manager’s board in February after allegations of corruption from a purported whistle-blower using a pseudonym, had a vendetta against his newspapers because they refused to "toe the line", the businessman told the commission of inquiry into governance at the PIC.

He said "sources" had told him that Gungubele also sought to crush Sekunjalo, his investment holding company.

"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," Survé said.

"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."

Gungubele, who has previously denied any wrongdoing at the PIC and said that he was confident that his name would be cleared, declined to comment on Survé’s allegations.

In his own testimony to the commission in February, he questioned the credibility and manner in which the PIC board dealt with allegations against its previous CEO, Dan Matjila, who was in charge when the asset manager made investments that benefited Survé’s companies.

The PIC, which manages about R2-trillion, mostly for government employees and pensioners, controversially invested in Survé’s acquisition of Independent, as well as subscribing for R4.3bn of shares  in Ayo Technologies in December 2017 for a 29% stake, at a price that was widely seen to  be inflated.

That is one of the deals under scrutiny at the Mpati commission and the PIC has vowed  to recover the money, which was allegedly invested without following due processes.

In July 2018, then finance minister Nhlanhla Nene said the PIC, which is also the biggest investor on the JSE, was working on an exit from Independent Media. According to PIC inquiry commissioner Gill Marcus, a former governor of the Reserve Bank, Matjila sent Survé and Independent Media a letter of default in August 2018 regarding its loan and accrued interest of R1.3bn.

Survé confirmed that the company, which publishes newspapers including The Star and the Cape Times, had not serviced that loan since.

He said he did not know what would happen to the group, and accused the PIC of rebuffing his efforts to find a solution, and treating him with "disdain".

"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," Survé said.

thompsonw@businesslive.co.za