Shortly after the JSE withdrew its approval for listing Sagarmatha Technologies, on 26 April, the executive chairman of its majority owner, the Sekunjalo Group, Iqbal Survé, took to the SABC to complain.
Sagarmatha Technologies is a company composed of debt-burdened Independent Media, online retailer Loot.co.za, a second-rate property website, and a news agency supposedly worth 1,000 times its entire turnover. The absurd valuation of the latter would contribute more than half the valuation of the listed entity. The listing attempt was valiantly promoted, albeit with comical ineptness, by Survé’s pet editor at Business Report. (For background, see these two previous columns.)
Survé told the interviewer:
“The sadness of all of this is you have hundreds of peoples (sic) working in these companies, you have great management teams, and because of this, uhm, agenda by our competitors against us they undermine really good people working in these organisations.”
What this has to do with the fact that Sagarmatha Technologies failed to submit financial statements to the JSE on time, or that journalists and market observers questioned the company’s valuation, is anybody’s guess. And why the fate of his employees should be anyone else’s responsibility but his own is also a mystery.
Apparently, the media has an “agenda”. I have yet to be invited to the secret meetings where we collude and plot the downfall of Iqbal Survé, but surely such events are studded with media legends, feasting like fat cats on his misfortunes.
You see, Survé, “affectionately known as the ‘Struggle Doctor’”, according to his own bio, knows why all this undermining is happening.
“And it’s all anti-transformation. It’s all designed to stop this country from becoming truly liberated,” he told the SABC.
Not only does he not address any of the actual criticisms levelled against him or his company, he acts like he alone carries the mantle of racial justice and transformation in this country. This is astonishingly conceited, and deeply insulting to the thousands of black entrepreneurs and businesspeople who work hard to build their businesses, and the millions more who are committed to undoing the injustices of the past in South Africa. If Survé’s grand ambitions come to naught, it will make no difference whatsoever to the liberation of South Africa.
He acts as if he is the first person to face a critical media, and businesses that aren’t owned by him do not face such a sceptical market. Tell that to the owners and directors of Steinhoff, for example, or consider how the Naspers-owned MultiChoice has been hauled over the coals recently.
Perhaps Survé thinks that merely by not being white (because he isn’t particularly black either), he merits a free pass on whatever dubious business proposal he is trying to flog to unsuspecting investors.
No, my friend. When the market sees profit opportunities, they don’t care about the colour of the boss. And when they see swindlers, they don’t care about their race either.
“You know, I’m a danger to them, only because I live a simple life, I don’t act like a wealthy person, I give most of my money away, I support causes that make a difference in this country, and I support, generally, the transformation of this economy and the society, and I’m the strongest advocate for black participation equally in this economy,” he rambled, modestly.
“That scares the crap out of certain established interests in this country, because they don’t like wealthy black people that are independent that don’t act like it, that don’t have jets, that don’t have Ferarris.”
This line of reasoning is quite absurd. Who doesn’t like a modest rich philanthropist? The media worships such people, and that includes many wealthy black businessmen in South Africa. But Survé’s ego knows no bounds. If he wasn’t so modest, he’d be perfect. He is persecuted, he feels, because he’s just such an amazingly awesome guy, and it wouldn’t do to have amazingly awesome black men running about forgetting to struggle.
He specifically names rivals Tiso Blackstar, the publishers of the Sunday Times and Business Day, but neglects to mention that the owners and founders of Tiso Investment Holdings, Nonkululeko Sowazi and David Adomakoh, are both black and that ne’er a word has been written about their materialistic extravagance. Must be they’re part of the plot.
“This is about defending our democracy against people who were fascists and who were Nazis during the apartheid era, and whose system of thinking remains the same, and who’ve activated many of their people because they feel emboldened and they feel they can take this country back,” he says, ominously.
He failed to name any of the supposed apartheid operatives this time, but the last time his newspaper did, the South African National Editors Forum roundly condemned it.
“What I’m doing, and regrettably sometimes I feel like I’m alone, what I’m doing is defending our country against these people, and making sure that our democracy is deepened.”
The gall of the man is astonishing. The fortunes of Independent Media, Sekunjalo Investments, or indeed the Survé family trust, do not stand proxy for democracy in South Africa. Survé is not the sole defender of transformation, or the last bulwark against resurgent fascism. His supreme arrogance is second to none. Nobody respects Iqbal Survé more than Iqbal Survé himself, and he’ll gladly regale audiences with tales of why he deserves uncritical awe.
He goes on about how “most black South Africans” tell him they love and support him, but then, he has a record of saying glorious things about himself that are fabricated from whole cloth.
Let’s return to his bio, and his reputation as the so-called Struggle Doctor.
“Dr Survé had both a personal and/or a professional relationship with many former Island prisoners including Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada, Andrew Mlangeni and Govan Mbeki on their release from Robben Island,” it says.
In the Survé-controlled Business Report, a glowing puff piece makes the claim that he knew Mandela well, and was his doctor both on and off Robben Island.
However, according to veteran journalist Terry Bell, quite a lot of what he says about his past does not pass scrutiny. For example, when Mandela left Robben Island in 1982, Survé was reportedly a junior medical student at the University of Cape Town. None of his actual doctors could corroborate his story that he was close to, or ever treated, Mandela. In fact, Mandela himself reportedly said he had never heard of Survé. Ahmed Kathrada likewise told Bell, “I don’t know the man personally.”
Survé was asked to comment, and told Bell that he does not wish to flaunt his personal and professional relationship with Mandela. Yet he brags about his personal and professional relationship with Mandela right at the start of his own damn bio.
The man has no shame.
Clearly, one should treat claims by Survé with some suspicion. Especially when, instead of answering questions, he reverts to bragging about himself, the torchbearer of Nelson Mandela, the lone titan still holding back the forces of apartheid, and the archetypal persecuted black businessman.
A cursory examination of the evidence might lead one to consider that he is just a crook, a paranoid narcissist, and a pathological liar. Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe we need to build a dance partner for Mandela’s statue in Sandton Square. DM
In other news...
July 18 marks Nelson Mandela day. All over the country, South African citizens devote 67 minutes to charitable causes in memory of Madiba. It's a great initiative and one of those few occasions in South Africa where we come together as a nation in pursuit of a common cause. An annual 67 minutes isn't going to cut it though.
In the words of Madiba: "A critical, independent and investigative free press is the lifeblood of any democracy."
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