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NEWS ANALYSIS: ANC supporters bat for media boss

Craig McKune & Sam Sole

Lobby group with strong ANC ties comes out strongly in support of Surve

Iqbal Survé, the executive chairman of Independent Newspapers, has been at pains to reassure staff that he is not an ANC stooge – but a campaign to support him over his removal of Cape Times editor Alide Dasnois has not helped to dispel that concern.

The man who leads that campaign is Wesley Douglas, who confirms he is an ANC member, but denies the ANC is driving it.

It was Douglas, as con­venor of something called the Media Transformation Move­ment of South Africa (MTMSA), who arranged and led a demonstration of support for Survé outside Newspaper House in Cape Town this week. The demonstration was to counter a protest over alleged editorial interference by Survé, organised by the Right2Know campaign.

Douglas is a former African Christian Demo­cratic Party MP, who lost his seat when the ACDP haemorrhaged support in the 2009 elections. He was considered a rising star and felt his exclusion keenly, says ACDP veteran Cheryllyn Dudley.

He was then appointed chief executive of the Hillsong Foundation, a charity arm of the Australian-based charismatic church, but he resigned earlier this year to pursue political work.

A CV for Douglas posted by the Africa-China People’s Friend­ship Association (ACPFA) states that he is charged with “overseeing the social media unit for the Western Cape ANC” and also “serves on the ANC communications management committee”.

Douglas, who confirms he serves on the ACPFA’s executive committee, says this information is wrong and that he has been trying to get the association to correct it. He has briefed the ANC on its social media strategy but denies playing any formal role in the party’s communication structures.

MTMSA links to ANC

Perhaps central to the perception that the MTMSA is being used by the ANC is the close association its leaders have with the ANC in the Western Cape.

Douglas is close to Phillip Dexter, the former Congress of the People MP who re-joined the ANC last year and who has reportedly been drafted in to help to run the party’s election campaign.

Dexter, who is also linked to the Friend­ship Association, is the chairperson of the Western Cape Social and Economic Development Forum, on which Douglas also serves.

The two are also on the board of the nonprofit youth organisation, Ready-to-Work, which was launched by ANC provincial leader Marius Fransman in October 2012.

Douglas confirms that the MTMSA is an offshoot of the Economic Equality Charter (EEC) campaign of the development forum, which was also launched last year with Fransman as its most prominent guest. Neither Fransman nor Dexter could be reached by the time of going to press.

But Douglas says the programme is his baby and is not being driven by the ANC: “Dexter doesn’t play a role. I wrote the EEC myself; if there’s anybody that’s leading, it’s me.”

Douglas is also a founder member of another key player in the MTMSA, the Youth Progressive Forum (YPF), represented by Chelsea Lotz.

The YPF chairperson is Fidel Issel, son of the late United Democratic Front founder Johnny Issel. Fidel describes himself as the treasurer of the ANC Youth League in the Western Cape.

Lotz runs a website called the SA Observer, which appears to serve as a distribution channel for ANC-sympathetic statements, news and commentary. But she denied any ANC involvement in the MTMSA, the YPF or the SA Observer.

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          The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.

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