/ 5 March 2022

Iqbal Survé plays victim card again, this time at Competition Commission and equality court

Iqbal Survé claimed that Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan “is using public resources to fight political battles."
Absa, FNB, Nedbank, Mercantile, Sasfin, Investec, Bidvest and Access Bank have cut ties with Iqbal Survé's companies and Standard Bank has the Sekunjalo Group on review. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

Three weeks ago, Nedbank announced that it was following the example of Absa, FNB, Investec, Mercantile Bank and Sasfin in severing its ties with companies linked to Iqbal Survé, chair of Sekunjalo Investments and of Independent Media. Standard Bank has the Sekunjalo Group companies on review and is refusing to open new accounts.

In response, Survé has approached the Competition Commission and the equality court, alleging that Absa, FNB, Nedbank, Standard Bank, Mercantile, Sasfin, Investec, Bidvest and Access Bank are a “cabal” colluding with one another to bring about the “extinction” of his companies and that they are motivated by a “racist” desire “to wipe out voices that are committed to transformation and black economic empowerment”.

The banks cite their fear that continued association with his companies will result in financial loss and reputational harm.

This raises two obvious questions:

Why are other media companies such as News 24, Arena Holdings, Caxton, Mail & Guardian, Politicsweb, Daily Maverick, amaBhungane, Biznews, Vrye Weekblad and GroundUp not experiencing this withdrawal of services by their banks?

Could the answer be that their business conduct, their avoidance of scandal and their proven commitment to ethical journalism have not justified such a response from their banks?

The second obvious question is whether the professed fear of all major banks of financial loss and reputational harm should they continue their association with Survé-linked companies is justified. 

What will have exacerbated their concerns was the result of an amaBhungane investigation in August last year, which showed a secret 2017 “subordination” agreement signed by Dan Matjila, the Public Investment Corporation’s former chief executive, that effectively nullified any attempts by the PIC to have the 2013 Independent Media loan repaid. 

The South African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (Sactwu), apparently a victim of a similar ploy, is litigating for the return of its contribution to the 2013 Independent Media purchase and this, in turn, raises two further concerns: what is Survé’s word worth and has he ever negotiated in good faith?

What clearly played a significant role in the decisions by these banks is the evidence relating to Survé and the companies linked to him, which was tendered under oath at the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture and the Mpati commission of inquiry into malfeasance at the PIC.

It is not just the banks that have sought to put as much distance between themselves and Survé as possible. In the United States, as the walls close in on Donald Trump, his auditors, Mazars, have severed their ties with him, clearly wanting to avoid guilt by association and the resulting reputational and financial harm.

In an analogous situation, Survé’s accountants, BDO SA, publicly severed their ties with him in October 2019.

BDO was not the only company heading for the exit and what must surely have played a role, as Nedbank mentions in its court papers, is the damning evidence led by Survé’s current and former employees at the Mpati commission.

Naahied Gamieldien, AYO Technology’s former chief financial officer, and Abdul Malick Salie, AYO’s former chief investment officer, told the court under oath that Survé had over-inflated AYO’s value after which, with the help of Matjila, the PIC subscribed to all its shares at issue for R4.3-billion. The group’s share price has since plunged by more than 80% and the shares, bought for R43 each, are now selling on the JSE for R4.

After listening to their testimony the Mpati commission issued an excoriating report about the collusion between Survé and Matjila — as the following points indicate:

  • Page 122: Dr Matjila’s justification for investing in AYO is moreover a post facto tailoring of facts and a dishonest one. He vacillated in relation to what authority he had been acting on when he signed the AYO irrevocable subscription form.
  •  Page 339: From the outset it appears that the PIC’s interactions with and investments in the Sekunjalo Group were questionable. The different investment proposals emanated from direct discussions between Dr Survé and Dr Matjila.
  • Page 341: The AYO transaction demonstrates the malfeasance of the Sekunjalo Group, the impropriety of the process and practice of the PIC as well as the gross negligence of both the CEO and CFO.
  • Page 413: The proposed Sagarmatha transaction, including the suspected share price manipulation and essentially attempting to use the PIC’s own investment to pay the debt INMSA [Independent News and Media SA] owed to the PIC, demonstrates a lack of ethics, lack of compliance with laws and regulation, and a disregard for the best interests of the PIC and its clients.

The Mpati commission report also mentions Survé’s refusal to repay the original PIC loan, which had enabled him to gain control of the biggest group of English newspapers in the country, Independent Media, and that default debt, with accrued interest, now stands at more than R1-billion — and counting.

So concerned was the Mpati commission about this malfeasance that it called for sweeping forensic investigations into the conduct of the Sekunjalo group.

Here’s another extract from that report:

“The proposed Sagarmatha transaction, including the suspected share price manipulation and essentially attempting to use the PIC’s own investment to pay the debt INMSA owed to the PIC, demonstrates a lack of ethics, lack of compliance with laws and regulation, and a disregard for the best interests of the PIC and its clients.

“Having got the PIC to invest R4.3-billion in AYO, Survé wanted it to invest a further R3-billion in Sagarmatha Technologies and he told the Mpati commission that Sagarmatha would probably have a valuation of R140-billion if he could get it listed on the New York Stock Exchange.”

Type sagarmathatech.com into your computer’s search bar and you will find that it does not even exist as a website and you might well conclude that the only way the promised listing of the “African Unicorn” is going to happen is if it gets up close and personal with an African Phoenix while cavorting on the “Intergalactic Highway”.

What was widely perceived as a scam was scuppered by the intervention of the JSE, which declined the listing. If you look at the interventions of the JSE in Survé’s questionable dealings and if you believe his claims of victimhood, then you have to conclude that the JSE is colluding with Absa, FNB, Nedbank, Standard Bank, Mercantile Bank, Sasfin, Investec, Bidvest and Access Bank in the giant conspiracy which no other media company is complaining about.

Sasol and the local branch of the global telecommunications group, BT (formerly British Telecoms), and legal firms ENS and Webber Wentzel have also severed ties with Survé and the companies linked with him. And the government of Finland has quietly replaced him as its honorary consul in Cape Town with Philip Palmgren.

All part of the great anti-Sekunjalo conspiracy?

The evidence before the Zondo commission that Arthur Fraser personally diverted R20-million from a State Security Agency slush fund into the Survé-linked African News Agency to create propaganda on behalf of Jacob Zuma in a scam called Project Wave will have reminded all of the above institutions of the Info Scandal in the 1970s when John Vorster’s government adopted the same approach using a South African Defence Force slush fund — the Stratcom technique.

But wait, there’s more.

A person is known by their friends and, in December 2014, the Mail & Guardian carried an article headlined “ANC to pay to make Kebble dirt go away”. It reported that at a 2006 insolvency inquiry, Survé acknowledged laundering R870 000 of Brett Kebble’s stolen money through his personal bank account to buy the support of the ANC Youth League. What is also a matter of record is that he attended the Kebble funeral and was an invited guest at the infamous Gupta wedding. 

Survé has a simple, evidence-free response to any person or any institution that questions his conduct — they are all racists who are anti-transformation.

In March last year, Independent Media and AYO Technology Solutions tried to convince parliament’s standing committee on finance that they are the uniquely-persecuted victims of the giant conspiracy by the anti-transformation racists.

They were laughed out of court. 

The Democratic Alliance’s Geordin Hill-Lewis summed up the mood of the meeting and its consensus: “You use conspiracies and allegations of racism to explain away everything but it doesn’t work. The reason your media company is failing is because your readers are deserting you.”

Sekunjalo Independent Media is hopelessly insolvent and, to cite just a single example, the daily circulation of the Cape Times has plummeted to less than 10 000. This is a city with a metro population of close to five million people.If Survé was unable to persuade parliament about his unique victim status, how successful will he be in selling the same shtick to the Competition Commission and the equality court, given the fact that the members of those institutions will undoubtedly have read Paper Tiger, the scathing censure of his conduct written by former Cape Times editor Alide Dasnois and former editor-in-chief of the Cape titles, Chris Whitfield?