South Africa

TRAINSPOTTER

Decupleting from reality: Iqbal Survé and Piet Rampedi leave Earth for Planet QAnon

Illustrative image | Sources: Independent Media's Iqbal Survé. (Photo: Robbie Tshabalala) | Piet Rampedi. (Photo: Facebook)

Save us, Jesus. 

No, seriously. This Wednesday, during a widely publicised press conference, Iqbal Survé – media tycoon, serial grifter, physician manque – presented South Africa with “evidence” of a vast conspiracy that has resulted in the disappearance of 10 – ten! – babies at the hands of a Nigerian doctor. He/she was said to be working in concert with corrupt officials and the South African government, in order to facilitate a human and organ trafficking network that reaches – cue Hollywood trailer voice– all the way to the top.

This, if true, would be the stuff of nightmares – foreign nationals and Cyril Ramaphosa conspiring to steal our own flesh and blood, the fruit of our many loins. (The many fruits of our single loins? It’s confusing.) The vampiric state has been made manifest: White Monopoly Capital and undocumented migrants are eating our children!

But perhaps we should start with some context.

It all began in June of this year, when Piet Rampedi, a veteran reporter and recently installed editor of a once-proud rag called the Pretoria News, teased a feel-good story that would (and did) blow the lid off the global mediascape. A woman named Gosiame Thamara Sithole was about to give birth to 10 – ten! – babies somewhere in the bowels of South Africa’s medical establishment. Word of the decuplets, shortly thereafter dubbed the Tembisa 10, went instantly viral, along with a now unjustly famous image of a pregnant woman in a pink maternity gown smiling coyly at the camera.

The mother was the canvas for Piet’s latest scam and, perhaps, we should have known better: there are zero feel-good stories during late capitalism, and even fewer in South Africa at the best of times. After several real reporters placed calls to the baffled staff at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria, the stench emanating off Piet’s confection became too noisome to bear:

Piet Rampedi was lying. Again.

Piet is, of course, a connoisseur of bullshit, a liar’s liar who lies so routinely that he probably doesn’t know he’s lying anymore. Piet’s best work is probably the evergreen “Rogue Unit” story, which ran over successive editions of the Sunday Times newspaper during the unhappy year of 2014. In midwifing this narrative, Piet, along with his mendacious co-investigators and feckless editors, undermined the integrity of the South African Revenue Service (SARS) in a sordid but nonetheless significant battle in Jacob Zuma’s larger State Capture campaign.

Piet wasn’t the only useful idiot in this saga – involved were true White Monopoly Capitalists, companies like Bain, Gartner and KPMG, and an eclectic array of slightly less blue-chip shysters. But credit where credit is due: the Rogue Unit spiel was immensely damaging, ruining many lives and helping to bleed SARS of both capacity and revenue for many years after.

For this alone, Piet should have been shot into space with only a single diaper and an Adele CD. But he wasn’t, and has instead stayed here on Earth to bleat about his victimisation at the hands of an uncaring and vicious media establishment.

Nonetheless undaunted, during the waning days of Zuma’s presidency Piet took a measly parcel of cash from the still unknown source to create a news start-up of his own. (This was not a successful endeavour, because Piet.) He then migrated to Twitter to defend himself against his critics, whom he accused of belonging to a vast racist cartel. (It remains a racist endeavour to criticise Piet for his myriad incompetencies, but we soldier on.) These activities firmly entrenched Piet as a mid-level cadre in the Radical Economic Transformation faction, where he was encouraged to lie openly and with abandon, and was remunerated for his efforts.

Piet, finally, was free.

If it ended there, this would indeed be one of those rare feel-good stories. But Piet did about the worst thing a small-time liar could do: he teamed up with a Master Bullshitter.

Enter Dr Iqbal Survé, who, among his many business interests, acts as Executive Chairman of Independent Media, a once-prominent but now desultory suite of news outlets. What is there left to say about Dr Iqbal? Well, aside from serving as God’s chief adviser and engineering the Big Bang, he’s been accused of defrauding the Public Investment Corporation of billions. The PIC is the financial vehicle that holds the future of millions of working-class South Africans in its hands, but Iqbal is rather flexible when it comes to the welfare of average humans – the wealth should trickle down from the top, unless it doesn’t, in which case Independent Media is there to deflect the blame.

This is QAnon-level crazy shit, but Iqbal may be on to something: South Africans are done with reality. The story contains a number of vital and explosive elements: a ghastly hospital, a venal foreigner, a lying political class, vulnerable children being trafficked by evil wrongdoers, Iqbal as human rights champion (eyeroll). This is a potent mixture of 2021 South Africa’s id – a potjie of our worst fears and most violent hatreds.

In his guise as a media executive, Iqbal, much like his favourite editor, has posed as a defender of the Little Guy, a committed anti-racist, and a Speaker of Truth to Power. Firmly in the corner of the Zuma faction during the State Capture era, Iqbal’s empire has been equally supportive of President Ramaphosa’s enemies during the New Dawn. Which would all be fine and good, except that Iqbal is to liars what Kanye West is to hip-hop – an all-encompassing, space-and-time-consuming PR stunt that doubles as an endlessly-looped act of narcissism on a cosmic scale.

And so when he teamed up with Piet, it didn’t take an astrologer to predict that things were bound to get weird. And they did, quickly. As the decuplets story went downhill with the velocity of a bowling ball strapped to a toboggan, it would come to contain some of their shared hallmarks: a genuine contempt for poor South Africans; a virulent disrespect for women; and finally, inevitably, a local speciality – a livid and profound loathing for black foreign nationals.

Last July, when it was determined that Gosiame Sithole had not given birth to the Tembisa 10, and following an Independent Media campaign that helped raise money for her alleged new family, she was cast by Piet as a grifter and a shrew. Her hapless husband was said to have known nothing of the babies – he was cast as the fool and the patsy. Doubters were portrayed as miserabalists and, yup, racists. Piet doubled down, then tripled down, then got sullen on Twitter. Iqbal, whose newspaper group does not subscribe to the Press Council, Press Code and does not participate in Sanef, and is therefore not subject to the authority of the SA Press Ombudsman, promised an investigation.

On Wednesday, he shared its conclusions in a press conference that he confidently handled himself.

While it was determined by independent Independent investigators that Piet messed up in his entirely understandable desire to deliver for Covid-weary South Africans a good-news story, he should nonetheless be “cut some slack”.

“He made a mistake,” said Iqbal.

Moreover, Iqbal was not willing to concede that the story was false in its substantive details, namely the 10 – ten! – babies. Indeed, he said, without providing any evidence to verify his claims, the Tembisa 10 were a thing. It’s just that they were stolen.

According to Iqbal, “[Gosiame Sithole] was taken to Sunninghill hospital in about January where she was introduced to a sponsored doctor who said to her that he would make sure that she delivers at a private hospital. The doctor that she saw is known to us and his name will be revealed […], all I can tell you, he is a Nigerian doctor.”

This doctor appeared to be engineering some kind of conspiracy: During birth, two of the babies apparently died due to medical negligence, and the remainder seemed to have been whisked away by the nameless foreign doctor, hospital staff, politicians and the government. (The Gauteng authorities said on Wednesday that they will sue Independent for these claims.)

All of which, said Iqbal, will be further explicated in an upcoming docu-series.

This is QAnon-level crazy shit, but Iqbal may be on to something: South Africans are done with reality. The story contains a number of vital and explosive elements: a ghastly hospital, a venal foreigner, a lying political class, vulnerable children being trafficked by evil wrongdoers, Iqbal as human rights champion (eyeroll). This is a potent mixture of 2021 South Africa’s id – a potjie of our worst fears and most violent hatreds.

By going full-blown Fox News, Iqbal is nudging his media empire into a new frontier – the wild multiverse in which far-right conspiracists create their own political atmosphere. These wacko fictions – marked in this case by Independent’s special brew of xenophobia and grievance politics – are the fertiliser for authoritarianism that waits in the ANC’s wings.

Iqbal and his pals know this. They also know that by destroying their own credibility they help poison the ground on which all South African media must stand – they debase themselves in order to debase us all. The blanket mistrust for the media has its own advantages – it means that in the eyes of the average punter all newsmakers are Piet Rampedi-scale liars.

In which case we can begin crafting our own bespoke realities.

The Rogue Unit was charming by comparison: The bullshitters have initiated a new phase. Piet Rampedi and Iqbal Survé will scorch all the earth they can to survive, and it doesn’t matter how many illusory Nigerian doctors and pregnant women they throw under the bus in the process.

The Tembisa 10 live! We will find them in the dark phantasmagoria of South Africa’s new unreality. DM

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All Comments 21

  • Yes, Richard. Only in the dark phantasmagoria of South Africa’s new unreality may the “Tembisa 10” be found.
    Your ever-impressive turn of phrase aside, I also agree with you on “Independent’s brew of xenophobia and grievance politics being the fertilizer for authoritarianism waiting in the ANC’s wings”.

    • How do I get the rights for the book and movie? I couldn’t have made this up in my wildest dreams? Sadly, people believe this BS just like they believe, Tucker and Donald.
      Boggles the mind.
      But thanks for the eloquent as always rendition of what would otherwise be a non-story.
      We want more Richard.

  • Despite being a serious article by Richard, his writing style puts a small smile on my mouth, considering some of the rather depressing article’s in today’s edition of DM.

  • What amazes me is that this “abduction” has never been reported to the police. One would have thought that the dishonorable Dr would have assisted the distraught parents in laying charges against the hospital, doctor, politicians etc.

  • This is so well written! And would be hilarious. If it was an entertaining tale. (Though I will admit to laughing out loud.) But it is actually happening. So it is not the laugh that remains. So scary.

  • Time South Africa had a body like the FCC (actually, we do, it’s called ICASA, but they have no teeth) which can take down IM and stop them from broadcasting lies. That’s our excuse, I wonder what the US does to rationalise the continued existence of “Faux News”.

    • Precisely. If 75 million Americans can be conned & FAUX News is the number 1 ‘news’ channel (serious eye-roll), imagine the impact of this horrific nonsense on ‘less sophisticated’ news consumers. Another question: why…oh, why!….would the Tembisa Ten be so fabulous/worthy/incredible that an international conspiracy would be planned, funded & executed? Was poor Ms Sithole inseminated with Einsteinian DNA & she produced 10 geniusses that would change the world? Sounds so SPECTRE-like. Blofeld anyone? So many simple questions that should create serious doubt, yet ‘captured minds’ nod lemming-like with concern. The sooner Surve is put away, the better.

  • Note to DM: why does your built-in spell-checker on this platform use American as the standard? Laziness would be my answer, but perhaps you have a better explanation. One way or another, it’s contributing to the ongoing slide everywhere: even the SABC refers to that annual fee you have to pay for a TV as a “license”. I refuse to accept it. Yes I’m an old fart.