Celebrity businessman Mandla Mthembu is confident that his company, Martial Eagle Investments, will be the winning bidder for a 55% controlling stake in Johnnic Communications.
Johncom has already announced plans to unbundle and restructure, but Mthembu says he hopes to finalise the offer before the group splits. In this case he would gain control of the lucrative Sunday Times, the country’s biggest weekly newspaper.
“We have entered into negotiations with management and we are in negotiations with an overseas bank to raise the funds,” he told the Mail & Guardian. He said he was hoping to raise R7-billion and was “fairly confident” that his company would be awarded the stake. “We’re a private company and we don’t believe in vendor financing,” he added.
According to media reports, Mthembu is worth about R2,5-billion, although it is unclear how this figure was calculated. He received a R57-million payout from Transnet after his company Sechaba Printing successfully sued the parastatal after it sold its printing business to a company he claimed had ANC links. He said that Martial Eagle Investments was a relatively new company but was also interested in investing in banking and financial services.
On September 23, Business Times reported that Tokyo Sexwale’s Mvela-phanda Group and Cyril Ramaphosa’s Shanduka Group had made an offer for Opco, the holding company which will own the Sowetan and Sunday Times, following Johncom’s unbundling. The media group is to split into two separate groups, Opco, to be called Avusa, which will hold most of its media assets, and Johncom, which will house the company’s Caxton stake. Should the unbundling go ahead, and Mthembu’s bid pays off, he would be left with the company holding the Caxton stake.
According to Business Times, the Mvelaphanda/Shanduka offer would have included about R1-billion in cash for the unbundling and restructuring, and would forfeit an empowerment discount of between 30% and 40% of the value of the stake. This implies that Johncom shares would see an increase in value of about R400-million, the newspaper said.
The two companies would aim to complete the deal at the same time that Avusa is established and listed.
But, Mthembu said he did not understand the current management strategy of selling off productive assets. He was strongly against the sale of Johncom’s 38% stake in M-Net and Supersport to Naspers, which he said still had to be approved by the competition authorities. “Certain shareholders are questioning the legality of sale,” he said, adding that there were questions about whether due process had been followed. His overseas backers were interested in Johncom because the group had a good spread between print and electronic media.
“Freedom of the press is one of the most important pillars of democracy,” Mthembu said, adding that being a former journalist he understood the principle of non-intervention in editorial matters. He was not planning any retrenchments, although it would be important to appoint respected journalists. “I am nobody’s lackey and we won’t have any sacred cows.”
Attempts to reach Johncom CEO Prakash Desai and his assistant were unsuccessful. However, in April the group announced that it would unbundle and introduce broad-based BEE investors. It has issued no recent cautionary announcements, suggesting no deals are imminent.
Under the radar
Mandla Mthembu may be a familiar name to gossip hounds, but he’s not well known in the worlds of business and politics. Our political desk tells us he has no obvious political connections. A search of the South African Deeds Office records showed no result for Martial Eagle Investments. His directorships of his two previous companies, Sechaba Holdings and Sechaba Printing, were not recorded. No director fitting Mthembu’s profile came up in the search. — Jocelyn Newmarch
Matching yellow lambos
If Mandla Mthembu does end up with the Sunday Times, he may have a full-time job keeping himself off the front page. His tempestuous relationship with Khanyisile Mbau, a soap star young enough to be his daughter, has become a mainstay of the tabloids’ pages.
Mbau (21) is said to own 600 pairs of shoes, and the couple splashed out on an R80 000 pram for their daughter Princess. The two tied the knot in a traditional wedding late last year, and planned to hold a glitzy Western ceremony, but never set a date for the second nuptials. According to City Press, they tried to sell exclusive pictures of Princess to a magazine for R500 000 — a move which fuelled rumours that Mthembu was bankrupt.
In April this year, readers feared the marriage was over after the two apparently came to blows in a Sun City hotel suite over allegations that Mbau was having an affair. Mthembu called her “a gold digger”, she called him abusive, and the pair laid charges of assault against each other. Mbau even hired his ex-wife’s divorce lawyer.
But by month-end, reporters said they were back together. To celebrate their reunion, reported the Sunday Times in August, the pair bought identical R4-million Lamborghinis and tested them on Johannesburg’s M1 highway. “It was just the two of us; we just had to take them on an open road where we could really push them to the limit,” Mbau told the paper. “I am the second and youngest woman in Africa to own a Lamborghini.”
While Mthembu is better known as “Mr Khanyisile” after his wife, her own name has become slang. These days, if a woman drives in a nice car, she’s said to have pulled a “Khanyisile Mbau”, said Women24 columnist Sbu Mpungose. They certainly have a taste for sports cars, as they already own a Porsche Boxter and a Porsche Cayenne. — Jocelyn Newmarch