Business Maverick

OUT OF SERVICE

In a blow to shareholder PIC, Iqbal Survé’s Independent Media group retrenches a third of its staff

In a blow to shareholder PIC, Iqbal Survé’s Independent Media group retrenches a third of its staff
Illustrative image: Independent Newspapers, majority owned by businessman Iqbal Surve through Sekunjalo Investments, has retrenched 141 employees. (Photos: Adobestock and Lerato Maduna/ Gallo Images/Foto24) Retrenched. IOL. Independent

Retrenched staff have laid a complaint at the CCMA, as they wait for the newspaper group to pay out their agreed retrenchment packages. The retrenchments are bound to be a blow for the government’s Public Investment Corporation, which has poured R800-million into the group and has a 25% stake.

The Independent Media group, publisher of among others The Star, Isolezwe and The Cape Times, has retrenched 141 staffers, about a third of its workforce, and reneged on the terms of the retrenchment payments leading to former employees laying a complaint at the CCMA.

The brutal retrenchment exercise follows a dramatic decline in newspaper readership across the entire group, compounded by what media analysts describe as gross mismanagement of the group over the past decade. The controlling shareholder of the group is Sekunjalo Investment, which is ultimately controlled by businessman Iqbal Survé. 

The retrenchment exercise constitutes a blow to the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), which manages state employees pensions, since it owns 25% of the company and spent roughly R800-million in investment and loans to facilitate the R2-billion purchase of the group in 2013. Two Chinese state companies, China International Television Corporation and the China Africa Development Fund own the remaining 20% of the group. 

Former staff, who asked to remain anonymous, said they were instructed to reapply for their jobs in terms of Section 189 of the Labour Relations Act, and there were 84 unsuccessful applications. There were also 44 voluntary severance packages and 13 terminations. 

The terms were a one-month notice pay, and a week’s remuneration for every year of service, outstanding backpay and a R2,500 Pick ‘n Pay voucher. Staff said when they initially tried to use the voucher, they had not been filled, but the cash has subsequently been deposited. 

The company said it would make the retrenchment payments in three equal tranches that would reflect in accounts on 1 November and two months after that. One of those periods has now passed and former staff say nothing has been paid, which has led to them instituting a complaint with the CCMA. Neither CEO Takudzwa Hove nor HR manager Lucien Jacobs responded to emails requesting comment. 

The company has seen catastrophic declines in the readership of particularly its suburban newspapers, with the Star, once the group’s flagship newspaper with a weekday circulation of about 145,000 in 2011, recording an average daily, paid readership of about 12,000 in the second quarter this year, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations’ second quarter 2023 figures. 

Other newspapers have also seen declines in circulation as the digital revolution intensifies, but nothing remotely comparable to this scale. Die Burger, for example, was recording sales of around 60,000 in 2011 and recorded a paid readership of about 25,000 in the second  quarter of this year. There have also been retrenchments at other news organisations, including the SABC and Sunday Times owner Arena Holdings.

There is also concern that some of the assets of the company, including the online service, IOL, have been shifted to companies in the AYO Group, a different group controlled by Survé, after subsidiaries of AYO were recorded in the companies’ reporting documents as having equity stake in that online news business.

The catastrophic decline in readership, successive late payments of staff salaries, and non-payment of the retrenchment cheques of former staff open the question of whether the group is in contravention of Section 22 of the Companies Act, which prohibits “reckless trading”. 

The section says a company must not (a) carry on its business recklessly, with gross negligence, with intent to defraud any person or for any fraudulent purpose; or (b) trade under insolvent circumstances. In these circumstances, directors can become personally liable. DM

  • The dates retrenchment payments were due to be paid has been corrected. 
Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Con Tester says:

    You don’t need to browse very much of King-of-all-I-Survé’s IOL’s content to see that its journalistic standards are not the stuff of literary legend. In fact—and apart from its overt biases and frequent object lessons in how *not* to write articles—the general shoddiness, abundance of misnomers, malapropisms, grammatical and language clangers, ham-fisted headlines, lazy ledes, plus a manifest reluctance to do any proofreading, often add up to amusing entertainment for the fun-loving reader.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    I was an avid supporter for many years, but stopped subscribing to the Cape Times and also buying the Weekend Argus the minute Surve’s true colours came out i.e. nothing but fraud, lies, misinformation, deceit, dishonesty and a complete lack of morals and integrity. Obviously many people voted with their feet as well. There was nothing independent about Independent Media, but rather totally skewed and biased to the RET faction and so anti-DA on everything, to the point of being exceptionally stupid. Good riddance and it is a great pity that ordinary workers pay the price for this sleazeball’s shenanigans and he gets away scot-free. Lets hope a true “Cape Times” rises from the ashes, like it was before this odious individual took over and trashed it to the gutter.

    • Carl Metelerkamp says:

      Likewise.
      I also never give any online articles on IOL a click through. Their free knock and drop community papers also go straight into my recycling

  • Middle aged Mike says:

    Calling the PICs 800 million an investment is an epic stretch. It was nothing more than a trough filling for a connected piggy.

  • Vic Mash says:

    We are still waiting for the quadruples that were born in Gauteng, till then, I’m not buying any newspaper..

  • Winston Bigsby says:

    Does someone have amnesia? This cretin borrowed R4,2 M from PIC to buy Independant Media and float the Ayo tech co at an inflated share price? Fact check please?

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    Time for some fancy footwork.

    …good thing he’s a foot man! 😀

    • Caroline Rich says:

      The decline in readership is because educated people woke up to the corruption, fraud and clear bias contained amongst the pages of their newspapers. Surve is a despicable, racist, arrogant thief who belongs in jail. People lost their pension funds because of him. Unfortunately he has political connections in the ANC (he was a big buddy of Zuma) and is therefore untouchable. Nothing Independent about his company.

  • frances hardie says:

    The Cape Times became a rag under Survé. I terminated my home delivery subscription, graduating to the Daily Maverick online. Relinquishing the printed format was a wrench, but not so much the Cape Times in its current incarnation.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    The chickens are coming home to roost

  • Bruce Gatland says:

    I stopped buying any Independent rags years ago.
    I also refuse to buy anything from the appropriately named “Loot” – owned by Survé.

  • Dan Bowskill says:

    They can’t even give the drivel filled rags away at airports.

  • Jimbo Smith says:

    Perhaps the geniouses at the PIC are choking on their coffee this morning. A proper sucker punch from Surve whose contribution to the destruction of once proud newspapers has been catastrophic. It was only a matter of time!!!

  • Katharine Ambrose says:

    The PIC is not in safe hands. I wonder why the Chinese were so heavily invested in these rags. Will they remain invested to fulfill some ANC obligation? In the 90s the catchphrase was transparency in government now everything is cloaked in mystery and behind closed doors the country’s future is frittered away.

    • Donald bemax says:

      I am grateful for my Star news paper, delivered free of charge, every morning ,no doubt this is to boost circulation figures and convince advertisers that they have a decent reach to consumers..
      This news paper provides protection of my carpeting from the puppies , clean windows and more over is used to light my braais.. Iqbal please continue to provide this excellent community service.

  • Rob Alexander says:

    The Johannesburg Star newspaper was an icon, until he got his paws on it. This “doctor” cannot manage his way out a car park puddle…useless, just like his crooked political pals. The only thing he seems good at is firing employees and now retrenching them.

  • Stratford Canning says:

    If you had asked any banker, they would have responded by saying that it would be insane investing in Iqbal’s group. What was the PIC thinking?

  • Matthys Moss says:

    Tim not sure about your closed statement of retrenchment date payments being corrected. None of the retrenched staff has received as yet any update on the first part payment! Gross mismanagement is putting it lightly!

  • John Weaver Weaver says:

    I do know folk who buy the Cape Times – purely for the Bridge Problem, plus either Crossword and/or Sudoku.

    Tip to Daily Maverick: Get a daily Bridge Problem, and the presnt all 3 on a single printable page

    • Malcolm Mitchell says:

      My wife and I are also one of these who only buy the Mercury, in this instance, for the crossword puzzle. All the comments made about the atrocious performance of the group are correct in my view. Also the Mercury has become a publicity sheet for Hamas! Cannot someone prevail on a business tycoon to buy the group, even though it would be a poor investment.

  • Matthys Moss says:

    ‘Dr ‘Loot’ is far more befitting…

  • Matthys Moss says:

    I was National Production Editor, Sport after assisting with the re-design six years ago (Now like added 666). From what started well ended with me gasping for air like goldfish in Sahara desert.
    Sport was what drove me. Wishing those ‘lucky’ or shall I dare say ‘unlucky survivors’ the very best!

  • David Mitchley says:

    Didn’t bother reading the regurgitated drivel in the article, but the comments are priceless.

  • Matthys Moss says:

    Anyone for a great recycling idea? I am working on mixing Independent Newspapers with my dog’s ‘thank you’ on the lawn and use as fertiliser (but risk killing my plants), BUT, making firelighters, as it is a omen to Independent Newspapers where they belong. Going up in ashes… Good luck Proteas by the way!

  • Malcolma Wyngaard says:

    Very very hearsore reading this and I kind of can relate as I’ve been retrenched 5 or 6 times in my working life. There’s something seriously wrong with our once admirable and but only those that were genuine , pre and post 70s, 80s and 90s. After that and start of state capture, the greed and utter disregard for the poor, unemployed and practically stealing from babies and defenseless by taking food out of their mouthes and ripping food from the tables are gut wrenching and may I add sinful indeed. Remember the law of the wheel and karma is real. People will remember how our votes were used for those in power’s filthy intentions and selfish gains. There will be no excuse and no ways for the general population, especially the working class to feel sorry for all those that are pilfering our once solid economy and education system. Those that have systematically lowered standards to keep the masses ignorant will one day pay for their cruelty. Our maker doesn’t sleep. Education is expensive, but ignorance is much more expensive. May we remember the true Comrades and vote the thieves out, as soon as possible.

  • I suffered similar treatment by the sekunjalo group when the pathnet group went under. We arrived at work one morning & were told the company is no longer operational. It is pathetic to think that they are said to care for their staff but they cannot even pay them what’s due to them in order to survive until they may find work. Disgusting 😡😡😡

  • Denise Smit says:

    I am a Government Pensioner and we will suffer because of this and the other “pro poor ” investments of the PIC. All because of ANC/EFF government has not been a government for 30 years but a corrupt power seeking mafia. There is no money left so we take the savings from the pensioners to gain votes for the elections. Denise Smit

  • Mike Gerhold says:

    Newspapers really seem to be a thing of the past. The forests can breathe again…

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