DEON WIGGETT: Koos Bekker fiddles as GuptiChoice burns
The Chairman is MIA, and getting someone to account for the SABC and ANN7 shenanigans is like trying to get Jacob Zuma to launch an inquiry
Like Cape Town’s rainfall or Malaysian Airlines flight 370, Koos Bekker has gone missing.
I do not know when the Naspers chairman was last spotted in public, but presumably he is alive and lucid and wilfully ignoring the scandal now engulfing MultiChoice.
This piece was filed the morning of December 1. For all I know, Bekker appeared to the nation in the afternoon, cried gracefully for an hour and then, for absolution, sacrificed a small pigeon.
If this is what happened, your legacy has been saved, Mr Bekker! You may safely disregard the unkind things I say.
GuptiChoice finally admitted on Friday morning there was, after all, something not quite right about those massive payments to ANN7. It has been sneeringly dismissing all questions since 2013.
But suddenly, on Friday morning, a humiliating U-turn. The board is now suddenly "aware that the ANN7 channel has caused real public concern because of the allegations of corruption levelled at the former owners of the channel. These allegations have negatively impacted the reputation of MultiChoice."
Stellar, attentive people, those members of the board. After a four-year public outcry, it will be the first to acknowledge the "real public concern" it dismissed as not real when it was still Thursday.
Chairman Koos is white and a monopolist and a capitalist, but he played his privileged hand exceptionally well. He is the Steve Jobs that transformed a National Party slave stable into a global beast
But this is MultiChoice, where even capitulations can be useful distractions. For all the stunning Friday concessions, they only relate to payments to the Guptas. As far as the SABC deals are concerned, MultiChoice has still only sneerily denied things. But its board is stellar and attentive – its awareness of the public’s real concern must be pencil-booked for 2018.
It has been the worst week yet at the GuptiChoice compound in Randburg. It was proven that MultiChoice made an unusual R25m payment to the Guptas via ANN7; and it was confirmed MultiChoice is paying the Guptas at least R141m a year for the privilege and prestige of carrying ANN7.
But on Wednesday, things went proper wrong. The minutes of a 2013 meeting between MultiChoice and the SABC came to light.
It was a lovefest. The banter between the MultiChoice guys and Hlaudi Motsoeneng contained more courting, seduction and double entendres than most of the dates I went on in my twenties.
At the meeting, everyone half-pretended to talk about two new SABC channels to be broadcast on DStv – and how MultiChoice could be made to pay for it.
Imtiaz Patel – then CEO of MultiChoice SA, now CEO of Naspers video entertainment – told the SABC board that MultiChoice "would not normally pay for a news channel". But because he wanted a "deeper relationship" with Hlaudi, a plan could be made. On the express condition that SA’s digital migration excludes smart decoders, MultiChoice would happily pay the SABC for, well, whatever.
In Patel’s own words, "We are looking for the excuse and the excuse for us is to be able to justify to our board that you are giving us something in return. What are you giving us in return for the R100m? We’re saying you give us a news channel, you’re giving us a general entertainment channel from your archives, your old, you know."
Journalists have provided the remaining dots. In the process, SA saw a heartening display of integrity from newsrooms owned by Naspers. Big up to City Press and News24, whose GuptiChoice stories served South Africans at the expense of their master.
Also on Wednesday, Naspers released interim results. Koos Bekker was quoted, but not displayed. CEO Bob van Dijk dealt with interviews. Talking to MoneyWeb radio, he was so desperate to distance Naspers from GuptiChoice that he grew agitated by the questions. Don’t we know he has companies to run?
But despite the grumping, Van Dijk conceded these matters "are serious, there is no question about that. We fully acknowledge that, and they need to be properly addressed. But the MultiChoice board is the appropriate entity to address them and we as a group need to verify and be absolutely sure that they’ve been appropriately addressed. We run more than 100 businesses and … we can’t go and investigate each single issue that has an appropriate governance structure to deal with [it]."
It’s like requesting an inquiry from Jacob Zuma. "If only I could, I would," a powerful man laments. But there are other processes that must unfold; a problem exists, but not here; somewhere an investigation is being conducted by a work stream that reports to Bathabile Dlamini.
Also on Wednesday, fund manager Shane Watkins wrote eloquently to Bekker in Business Day. He first e-mailed him in July, when whispers about the GuptiChoice deals were becoming louder.
Over months, Watkins implored Bekker to throw his weight around and put pressure on GuptiChoice.
To cut a long story slightly, Bekker was not having it. Their communication concluded with an "I’m afraid I can’t help you and am terminating this discussion" from the big guy himself.
It is hard to imagine a Koos Bekker so impotent he cannot make his wishes known to the boards of Naspers and MultiChoice. In fact, at the Naspers AGM in August, he demonstrated his unassailable control with a flurry of gavelling that left Kim Jong-un envious and depressed.
Chairman Koos is white and a monopolist and a capitalist, but he played his privileged hand exceptionally well. He is the Steve Jobs that transformed a National Party slave stable into a global beast.
I have only met him twice, briefly. I gave him no reason to remember me, but he seemed smart and formidable. But is he? Halfway through December 1, he had still not been heard of. But I remain convinced that, by December 2, this will all have been cleared up and a pigeon will be dead.
There is much abuse we fling at Naspers and its companies, but seldom does it stick to Bekker. This past week, something shifted. Bekker’s Naspers seemed colder, more cynical, more complicit than ever. The GuptiChoice project undermines every progressive step in which Bekker claims to believe. Is he conceivably that much of a hypocrite?
I do not believe you are impotent, Mr Bekker. You have ways to make MultiChoice listen to you. Surely your life is comfortable enough for you to care more about morality than money? Or are you intensely relaxed about MultiChoice taking its place next to KPMG, SAP and McKinsey in the gallery of the complicit?
You said to Shane Watkins there is nothing you could do. I try to imagine a phone conversation between you and Calvo Mawela, the new CEO of MultiChoice.
"Calvo, it’s Koos, long time! How is Randburg?"
"Always picturesque, Koos. How is France?"
"J’adore, Calvo! But that’s not why I’m calling. This … GuptiChoice thing. I don’t like it."
"Ah, but we signed a contract, Koos. We can’t disrespect the Guptas."
"You’re right, Calvo. Forgive my mutterings; I’m just Steve Jobs. Lekker dag verder!"
Mr Bekker, business may be business, but the GuptiChoice play has been too audacious. One of your companies did something it really should not have. It remains the last enabler of the kleptocrats killing the South African possibility.
Would you like to be remembered as the man too powerless to tame his own creature? I don’t buy it, sir. SA doesn’t, and history won’t.
I am unlikely to run into Chairman Koos at a party this season. But if you happen to move in exalted circles and spot him behind a punch bowl, please tell him everyone is looking for him.
• Wiggett is founder and creative director of Fairly Famous, a progressive advertising agency.