This opinion piece was first published on the writer’s blog here:
Iqbal Survé is standing neck-deep in a hole which he dug for himself– and slowly, but surely, it is filling up with shit.
There’s no escape for him. His time is up.
And that, I believe, is a good thing.
I’ve worked in newspapers and book editing for more than 40 years – and I’ve never come across worse chaos than at Independent Media.
I’ve never come across a group where lies have been peddled with such glib assurance – and for this, think of its denial over the past few days of having carried a story researched and written by an intern investigative unit.
I’ve never come across a newspaper where a persona non gratalist of letter writers forms part of its editorial policy.
I’ve never come across a newspaper which has refused to carry any stories featuring Professor Jonathan Jansen “because he had been rude to Doc”.
Independent Media is a company that is devoid of leadership. It is a company where the owner, backed by a group of lackeys, does pretty much as he pleases.
It is a company where far too many people have been bullied. It is a company where the bullied have no recourse to natural justice.
And yes, it is a company that has made itself guilty of racist behaviour.
When I was at the Cape Times, every time a white sub-editor made a mistake he or she would be accused of deliberately erring … because, well, they didn’t want the company to succeed and because white people are inherently racist, aren’t they?
These accusations were sometimes made within earshot of other staff members.
Two decent, excellent sub-editors, cracked under this type of pressure – and left.
Survé’s problem is his ego – and his loyalty to those who stroke it for him.
No one can tell him anything because he believes he knows everything.
He loves being fawned over. “Thanks for helping to liberate us twice, Doc,” was a praise-song I heard repeatedly from one person – and it wasn’t Adri de Wet Senekal, who columnist and blogger Chris Roper referred to a few days ago as Survé’s “attack poodle”.
I’d be the first to acknowledge that South African newspapers have been rife with racism over the years. I was glad when I heard that Survé had bought Independent.
But it wasn’t long before disillusionment set in.
On one occasion, I reported a senior colleague for abusing one of my colleagues. I was assured that action would be taken against the abuser. Nothing happened. And then I discovered the abuser had been told who had laid the complaint against him.
My reward was to be shifted to head the company’s politics division, described by a senior executive at the time as the “shithole” of the company. It existed on a skeleton staff that was reduced even further when Survé decided one of the top reporters in that small team was in “Gwede Mantashe’s pocket”. He did not expand on this, but ordered that the reporter be moved to Business Report.
Being politics editor required me to work seven days a week, 13 hours a day.
In the first few weeks in my new position, Survé called me virtually every day with “suggestions” of who to interview: Brian Molefe, Kebby Maphatsoe and Carl Niehaus were among the political glitterati he thought should appear in Indy newspapers. With most of the people he suggested being soaked in scandal, I said: “Thanks, I’ll think about it,” and never did.
When the Gupta Tapes story broke, Independent Media was left high and dry – out of the loop. We were told we had been ignored because it was felt we “could not be trusted”.
And I think our sources were correct in this respect.
Just before the important ANC conferences at the end of 2017, Survé sent out an instruction to all the editors “not to take sides”.
But by this time he had already appointed a pro-Zuma acolyte, Steve Motale, as editor of the Sunday Independent.
Motale quickly showed his true colours, carrying a front page story about marital infidelity which was designed to inflict maximum damage to Cyril Ramaphosa’s chances of becoming the next ANC president.
Significantly, given the fact that prior to the ANC’s elective conference, when the race between Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma was regarded as neck-and-neck, Survé also invited Dlamini Zuma to Independent Media’s offices in Cape Town for a chat. All editors were instructed to attend.
Then, even before the new ANC president was chosen at the elective conference, Motale carried a front-page story that Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma had won the election for the top post.
This week, Survé’s group, which claims to have done so much for black members of the media, sent out dozens of “189 notices” (notices of retrenchment) to staff members.
Is he going to blame Tiso Blackstar for this as well? DM