‘For the media to remain credible in all this, its practitioners will have to continuously ask: is it true, is it fair and, critically, is it in the public interest?

‘My commitment, as a media owner but most of all as a citizen like you, is that our group will tell it like it is, without fear, favour or prejudice.’

Iqbal Survé, IOL  27 September, 2017

As investors, you need to know that your investments are secure, that the operating environment is stable, and that you are supported by policy certainty and regulatory safeguards.

Opening address by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the 4th South Africa Investment Conference 24 March, 2022

South Africa’s economic reconstruction and recovery plan (ERRP) has, as one of its main goals, attracting direct foreign investment.

Yet, as overseas delegates listened to the opening address of President Cyril Ramaphosa at the 4th South African Investment Congress in Johannesburg on 24 March, the largest group of English newspapers in the country, Sekunjalo Independent Media, was pumping out article after article telling them that our banks are unspeakably evil.

What motivates these enormously damaging attacks which no other media company in the country has seen fit to emulate?

I was pleased to read on Iqbal Survé’s IOL website that, late last year, FNB was voted the best SME Bank in South Africa and Africa at Global Finance’s inaugural SME Bank Awards.

As a proud South African, I was just as pleased to learn on the IOL website recently that Standard Bank has been named as Africa’s most valuable banking brand.

It now has ten million customers.

An internet search shows similar innovatory excellence at Nedbank.

It was thus with some cynicism that I read on the same website and in obvious contradiction of these achievements, claims that FNB and Standard Bank and Nedbank – along with Absa, Capitec’s Mercantile Bank, Sasfin, Investec, Bidvest and Access Bank – are innately racist  and corrupt and unpatriotic. They use, we are told, ‘tricks to escape accountability’ and they ‘prop up white economic power’.


IOL now repeatedly tells readers that our top banks are ‘anti-transformation’ and motivated by a ‘white agenda’. Furthermore, we are led to believe by Iqbal Survé and his news outlets that these banks are uncaring about South Africa’s systemic unemployment, are guilty of ‘apartheid tactics’, the ‘violation of human rights’ and that they are the contemporary equivalent of the USA’s Ku Klux Klan lynch mobs which effectively ceased to exist 70 years ago.

As no other media company – here or abroad – has made or is making such claims, might this not be justifiably described as ‘Iqbal’s Scoop’?

As I see it, there is a pattern here – unprecedented in South African newspaper history – of the biggest group of English newspapers being weaponised to fight personal vendettas. Now it is the turn of our banks to be demonised with the ‘racist’ epithet which was previously used to target the University of Cape Town and its then Vice Chancellor, a time when screaming headlines such as ‘Arrest Max Price’ dominated the front page of the Cape Times. At the timeIqbal Survé accused it of ‘paying lip service to transformation’ just as the banks are now accused in his newspapers of being anti-transformation. Strangely enough, two years ago his newspapers carried an article by Martin Hesse which showed exactly the opposite.

On 7 April 2015 Survé accused the University of Cape Town of being racist and assured the Fees Must Fall members of his newspaper’s support. Suitably encouraged, they attempted to burn down the campus and their subsequent persecution of revered cardiologist Professor Bongani Mayosi played a major role in his suicide according to his family and the subsequent report by the university.


Our top banks are now also vilified with the racist smear because, like Sasol and Britain’s BT Group, they don’t want to do business with Survé or with companies associated with him for fear of reputational harm and commercial loss and they are closing his accounts.

In the same way and for the same reasons that US auditing firm Mazars severed ties with Donald Trump, South African auditors BDO SA dumped Survé two years ago.

It is reasonable to assume that the current venomous campaign against our top banks carries Survé’s imprimatur because his editors lack the autonomy which he promised them in a letter to staff in 2013: ‘I want to be clear and categorical. I want to assure all staff of my sincere commitment to the editorial independence of this group and the right of its journalist to do their work without fear or favour.’

In this context consider the testimony before the Mpati Commission of former AYO executive Siphiwe Nodwele who claimed that Sekunjalo Independent Media’s news coverage is controlled by Survé and the assertion by Ferial Haffajee that his orders are passed on to newsroom staff  by Sekunjalo’s COO, Howard Plaatjes, has not been denied.

This belies the claim by the ‘other Mandela doctor’ that he does not ‘take sides’.


In his petition to the Equality Court, Survé alleges that our top banks are colluding with one another and are effectively proxies controlled by Cyril Ramaphosa (who is constantly attacked on his news channels) and the JSE. The collective objective of a grand conspiracy, he alleges, is to gain control of the media by putting his companies out of business through ‘McCarthyism’ and ‘corporate sabotage’ driven by ‘dark forces’ and the judiciary  as well as the PIC and the Treasury in a ‘blatant abuse of power’.

His court papers shed no light on why the allegedly conspiratorial Ramaphosa and the JSE, in supposed collaboration with our leading banks, are not, in the same way, seeking to destroy other media outlets such as Arena Holdings, Media 24, Mail & Guardian, Caxton Local Media, Daily Maverick, Politicsweb, and Maroela Media.

The suggestion that our top banks would want to ‘control the media’ by bankrupting Sekunjalo Independent Media does not stand up to even the most cursory scrutiny because the company is effectively insolvent and living on borrowed time anyhow as it faces increasing litigation.

In the main, this financial collapse has occurred because newspapers like the Pretoria News lack credibility which adversely affects circulation and thus advertising income.

Ask the company’s Group Ombud, Yogas Nair and human rights lawyer Michael Donen  about the newspaper’s editor, Piet Rampedi – they’ll tell you.

The same goes for The Star .

When, Iqbal Survé abusively dismissed Cape Times editor Alide Dasnois after her team had produced a front-page Nelson Mandela obituary which Time rated as one of the best in the world, the daily circulation of the newspaper was around 30 000. Today it is less than 10 000 in a city which is home to five million people. It carries insufficient advertising to be commercially viable, far less than Die Burger, the other morning newspaper in Cape Town.

This has come about because former Independent Media subscribers and advertisers have become alienated by the extent to which ethical news coverage has been replaced by the constant propagation of fake news subsequent to the financially-compromised 2013 Sekunjalo takeover of a once-respected media company.

Fake news

What would also have concerned them was the decision by Iqbal Survé to follow the lead of the Guptas and remove his newspapers from the oversight exercised by the SA Press Council, something this audience would have seen as a means of escaping accountability for routinely publishing fake news – see here and here and here and here and here.

Are South Africans not entitled to ask how the national interest is served when our highly-regarded banks are now constantly exposed to relentless mass media denigration at the behest of someone who has repeatedly brought the sector into disrepute?

In what way does this encourage the direct foreign investment which the Beloved Country so desperately needs – the investment potential which President Ramaphosa sought to highlight on 24 March?

Does this not violate a basic tenet of ethical journalism – do least harm?

Can these vituperative attacks on our banks be described as ‘balanced, free from bias and fair’?

Some six decades ago, I proudly deposited my first salary cheque with Barclays Bank which then became FNB – you know, one of the banks described by Iqbal Survé’s newspapers and online portal as the epitome of evil.

I have never experienced anything other than efficient service and a cordial willingness to be of assistance and Sim Tshabalala’s Standard Bank would not have signed up ten million clients if it was any different there.

In closing, therefore, I leave you with a thought from Dougie Oakes, the former political editor at the Cape Times:

‘I’ve never come across a group where lies have been peddled with such glib assurance.’

Similar sentiments are expressed on every page of the book Paper Tiger by Alide Dasnois and Chris Whitfield – see here and here and here  and here – and they are echoed in the sworn Mpati Commission testimony of former AYO employees such as Kevin Hardy.

In the context of our allegedly evil banks, it is thus up to you to decide whether or not the ‘Paper Baron’s attacks on banks like FNB,  Standard Bank and Nedbank are credible.

Iqbal Survé’s media company tells us that our banks are ‘unpatriotic’ but how patriotic is he when, as potential investors from abroad gather at the 4th Investment Conference, they find his IOL website saturated with articles portraying our banks as degenerate and characterised by moral turpitude?

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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Ed Herbst is an author and veteran journalist.