Never in the history of our country has such a large entity, with more than 8 000 direct and indirect employees, been the focus of such attention, and outright discrimination. And it is all aimed at silencing Independent Media.

Dr Iqbal Survé IOL 18/7/2022

In reaching this decision, Standard Bank considered a number of factors related to the Sekunjalo Group, some of which are in the public domain, and applied its risk management principles against which all prospective and existing clients are evaluated and assessed.

Jan Cronje Fin 24 19/7/2022

Testifying before the Mpati Commission of Inquiry into malfeasance at the Public Investment Corporation, former AYO executive Siphiwe Nodwele, claimed that Iqbal Survé controls the coverage and content of Sekunjalo Independent Media news outlets and that the company’s reporters simply follow his instructions.

At the time Survé denied this, but his attacks on Cyril Ramaphosa and Pravin Gordhan  and our banks are now relentless either in person or in Twitter posts endorsing articles by his reporters.

At the moment his newspapers and the IOL website are pumping out articles depicting our banks as innately evil and engaged in a diabolical plot to silence Independent Media voices.

The nine banks that have closed or intend to close the accounts of Survé-linked companies have been described by Sekunjalo Independent Media newspapers as  ‘abusive’ and ‘lawless’  and  ‘anti-transformation’ and motivated by a ‘white agenda’. Furthermore, we are led to believe by Iqbal Survé and his news outlets that they are not only (believe it or not) intent on ‘collapsing the economy’, but our ‘Mafia banks’ are also uncaring about South Africa’s systemic unemployment,   are a ‘gross’ violator of human rights, and hold the constitution in contempt  as well as being guilty of  ‘apartheid tactics’ and ‘double standards’ .

Why, then, does Standard Bank have 16 million customers and FNB have ten million and Nedbank seven million? The majority of these customers are black people and the suggestion that they would happily go along with such alleged evil is stupid, offensive and manifests the very disrespect of which the banks are accused.

Patrice Motsepe does not agree with Survé.

His company, Metrofibre, an open-access fibre network operator, has linked up with Standard Bank in a R5 billion deal which will seek, in particular, to improve internet access in rural areas.

Direct contradiction

Ironically, on July 27, Survé’s IOL website carried an article headlined ‘Banks forging ahead to meet empowerment code targets’ – a direct contradiction of an article published on the same website on 22 May.

Survé’s dispute with the banks is moving swiftly.

Here is a chronology of recent events in this regard.

On 18 June, Sekunjalo, arguing that it was the victim of racism, won an interim order in the Equality Court preventing Nedbank from closing its bank accounts.

On 19 July, ignoring this ruling, Standard Bank closed the Sekunjalo Independent Media account, becoming the last of the big four banks to do so.

On 22 July, in the Eastern Cape High Court, Acting Judge Michelle Beneke ruled that the court could not prevent FNB from closing the account of Talhado Fishing Enterprises, a subsidiary of Premier Fishing & Brands.

Here is a summary of that finding from the South African Lawyer website:

A company in Iqbal Surve’s Sekunjalo Group failed in an urgent court bid to prevent FNB from shutting its bank account on Wednesday, reports TimesLIVE.

The Eastern Cape High Court (Gqeberha) refused to grant an interim interdict to Talhado Fishing Enterprises, a subsidiary of Premier Fishing & Brands, saying the company had weak prospects in the long term of compelling the bank to keep its accounts open.

The Sekunjalo Group and subsidiary companies have been battling on a number of fronts to keep their bank accounts open after the findings of the commission of inquiry into the PIC.

The company argued in court that it needed a bank account to conduct its business and other banks were not willing to take it on as a client – leaving it ‘effectively unbanked’.

Acting Judge Mechelle Beneke said the court could not insist on a banking relationship against FNB’s will, and FNB could not be forced to keep on Talhado as a client simply because other banks would not take the company on.

‘There are no prospects of success on review. Accordingly, the application for an interim interdict must fail.’

 The differences between the Nedbank and Talhado rulings were compared in a Cape Talk interview between John Maytham and Aslam Moosajee who is a Dispute Resolution Executive at ENS Africa. Moosajee expressed doubt that the racism claim would prevail and Maytham concurred saying “I’m quite sure that Nedbank will be able to provide the court with the names of thousands of black customers and black-owned businesses.”

Moosajee feels that the Talhado ruling tilts the scales in favour of the banks seeking to sever ties with Iqbal Survé-linked companies saying:

‘This decision will have a positive and significant impact on the country’s banking industry in that it allows banks to take measures in protecting their reputation.’

This Talhado decision is not reflected on Survé’s IOL website which claims that it provides ‘News that connects South Africans’. (Censorship by omission is forbidden by the S A Press Council’s code of ethical conduct but is deliberately omitted in Independent Media’s truncated version)

Significant loss

As the news broke about the judgment in the Eastern Cape High Court it also became known that the Public Investment Corporation had, like the banks, decided to distance itself from Iqbal Survé by selling its entire 20% stake in Premier Fishing & Brands at a significant loss. It so doing it has followed the example of Sasol, auditors BDO, the South African branch of British Telecoms and the government of Finland which, a year ago, replaced Survé as its honorary consul in Cape Town with a Finnish national, Philip Palmgren.

This decision by the PIC was summed up by Nellie Brand-Jonker, in an article in Die Burger on July 22 headlined  – ‘Survé bootjie kantel’ which I translate as ‘Survé’s little vessel lists’.

Smaller headlines, similarly translated are ‘PIC sells Premier Fishing at a huge loss – Share price 81% lower than listing’.

According to the newspaper’s estimates, the PIC – which invests on behalf of the Government Employees Pension Fund representing some two million government employees and pensioners – bought shares in the Iqbal Survé-linked fishing company in 2017 for around R340 million and has now sold them for R42 million because the share price had dropped 81%  since listing.

This investment would have been made when Dr Dan Matjila was at the PIC helm.

This decision by the PIC is not reflected on the IOL website which claims that it provides ‘News that connects South Africans’.

Matjila was also in charge when the PIC was the only institutional investor in the Survé-linked AYO Technology Solutions when it listed in 2018. It spent R4.3 billion to buy a 29% stake in the company at a valuation of R43 a share. Those shares are now selling on the JSE for less than R4 indicating the PIC and thus the GEPF have already lost some R3 billion.

In addition to that, Survé refuses to repay the original dubious loan by the PIC in 2013 to his consortium which gave him control of the Independent titles and the default debt now exceeds a billion rand.

Furthermore, he refuses to repay a similar loan by the South African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (Sactwu) which has initiated court proceedings against him.

Conspiracy victim

Survé contends that he is the victim of a conspiracy which no other media company in the country has experienced:

Never in the history of our country has such a large entity, with more than 8 000 direct and indirect employees, been the focus of such attention, and outright discrimination. And it is all aimed at silencing Independent Media.

If I understand his argument correctly, the bigger the company and the greater the number of its employees, the less entitled its bank is to close its accounts should it become concerned about the legality of its client’s business practices and corporate ethos.

The State-owned Russian company, Gazprom, employs half a million people yet, if the Survé principle is applied, banking institutions around the world would be prohibited from severing ties with Gazprom over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by this century’s most despised war criminal which has turned six million of its  citizens into refugees, killed more than 5000 citizens, obliterated its cities, abducted more than a million Ukrainians, seen its women raped, people murdered in cold blood, and buried alive, its places of worship bombed, its farming fields systematically shelled, and stolen its harvests and agricultural machinery to starve its citizens into submission resulting in people in the world’s poorest countries suffering increasing levels of malnutrition. One heart-rending  and horrifying account after another – see here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here but, if I understand Iqbal Survé correctly, Gazprom’s bank accounts should be sacrosanct and immune from sanction by the international banking community because they employ a lot of people?

Curtailing media freedom

There is no evidence whatsoever to validate Iqbal Survé’s claim that the Ramaphosa-led government is curtailing media freedom and this has been denied.

The headline on a recent article authored by him reads Destroying Mandela’s democracy – a captured media silences freedom’.

Captured media?

Is he talking about the African News Agency, a company linked to him, which happily accepted a tax-payer-funded R20 million backhander from Arthur Fraser as part of the SSA Project Wave propaganda attempt to polish the image of the irremediably tainted Jacob Zuma?

Sekunjalo Independent Media, according to Survé, is exposing corruption and, to silence it and prevent this from happening, nine banks, in collusion with the Ramaphosa faction of the ANC, are closing its accounts.

In other words, if his claim has any merit, we must conclude that these banks are opposed to corruption being exposed and so is Ramaphosa.

Says Survé:

At the root of the desire to snuff Independent Media’s role as a public commentator is the fact that we have often been the media house to expose the less savoury side of government, its corruption and its manipulation that is undermining the fabric of our society.

No evidence is provided to prove that our banks are opposed to corruption being exposed and none of them complained about the publication of ‘VBS: A Dream Defrauded’ by Dewald van Rensburg who is not employed by Iqbal Survé but by amaBhungane – see here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.

The mere fact that small investigative journalism teams like amaBhungane and GroundUp are left to work unhindered  in exposing corruption by government  and its deployed cadres disproves Survé’s contention. Ironically Survé’s IOL news portal carries an article headlined Ramaphosa gives SIU the go ahead to probe Saldanha Bay Municipality. Which account are we supposed to believe?

In fact, to encourage the exposure of corruption, Standard Bank sponsors the Sekuvile awards in conjunction with the South African National Editor’s Forum (SANEF).

Exposing corruption

Survé does not explain why no other newspaper company is being singled out for this alleged persecution, which is puzzling because it is competing media outlets and journalists not employed by him that have taken the lead in exposing corruption:

  • Pieter-Louis Myburgh – see here and here and here and here and here – has never worked for Iqbal Survé;
  • Ray Smuts, whose stellar work at exposing corruption at the Lottery Board writes for GroundUp, co-edited by Alide Dasnois whose abusive dismissal as Cape Times editor saw the newspaper’s circulation drop by two thirds. Its daily circulation is now around 8000 – in a city of five million inhabitants. So much for promoting media freedom;
  • In contrast, Sekunjalo newspapers have focused on undermining President Cyril Ramaphosa with a false claim that he is a sexual predator and, along with Public Protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, are questioning the legality of the funding his slate got at the Nasrec conference in 2017. That campaign fell at the Concourt hurdle.

The banks, in closing Survé-linked accounts, cite the findings of the Mpati Commission – see here and here and here and here and here and here among other concerns – for their decisions.

Survé and Sekunjalo have approached the Western Cape High Court to take the Mpati Commission report under review. They seek to have it set aside. Will they, one wonders, seek similar court redress against the JSE – see here and here and here and here and here and here – which has expressed concerns about Survé-linked companies.

Unless there is a significant change, Sekunjalo staff will, as a result of Standard Bank’s decision, be unable to draw their September salaries.

Chris Whitfield who, along with the former editor of the  Cape Times, Alide Dasnois charted the catastrophic tenure of Iqbal Survé as a newspaper owner in their book Paper Tiger – see here and here and here – predicted in November 2019 that only three major Independent Media titles are likely to endure.

In closing: Survé claims that he is the victim of collusion between the banks, Cyril Ramaphosa and Pravin Gordhan and rival media companies – ‘corporate terrorism’ – to silence him and his newspapers. This claim has been treated with some skepticism by MPs and the Deputy Minister of Finance David Masondo – yet he has served SLAPP-litigation papers on Daily Maverick and reporters Terry Bell and Tim Cohen and Chris Roper among others.

This is not the first time that rival media companies and their reporters have been attacked – attacks described as ‘disgusting’ by SANEF – and both of these attempts to silence competitors are without precedent in South African newspaper history.

So Survé, using lawfare, seeks to silence critics, competing media companies and their reporters, but blames them, the Ramaphosa faction and our top banks for seeking to silence his news outlets.


How can this reconciled with Survé’s 2017 promise – We vow to be balanced, free from bias and fair?

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.