The takeover of the Independent News and Media (INM) group by Iqbal Survé’s Sekunjalo consortium in 2013 was a political move designed to promote the ANC, according to a former editor.
Alide Dasnois was fired from the Cape Times, part of the Independent stable, in 2013. Dasnois is challenging her dismissal in the Labour Court, and filed papers on Thursday this week.
They make several damning allegations, including that Danois was fired to save Survé’s reputation.
Dasnois was appointed executive editor of the Cape Times in March, 2009. She says her letter of appointment ensured that she would have editorial independence, and INM should have respected this.
Survé’s company, Sekunjalo Investments, purchased INM in 2013. At the time of the takeover, it was announced that the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), would acquire 75% of INM. The PIC is solely owned by government, and is responsible for government employee’s pensions funds with the minister of finance as one of its shareholders, Dasnois stated in her letter. In papers, she quotes a Business Report article in which Survé says the takeover of INM would be a gift to Nelson Mandela.
“From the outset the acquisition of INMSA by Sekunjalo was accordingly promoted by Survé as not being purely commercial in nature, but as involving an explicit political strategy in terms of which significant media resources historically perceived in some quarters as being hostile to the ANC, would now fall under the control of business interests who would ensure that media resources were now deployed to promote the objectives of the ANC,” Dasnois says.
She also claims that plans for her removal were in motion in November 2013.This was evidenced by talks Survé had with Gasant Abarder about the possibility of him taking over her position as editor, Dasnois alleges. She says she was not aware of the plans at the time.
Death of Nelson Mandela
Dasnois’s dismissal centred around the death of Nelson Mandela in December 2013. The Cape Times planned for their coverage of his death in July that year, Dasnois says. At a meeting around that time, the paper decided that if Mandela were to die close to deadline, the paper would publish a wraparound.
On December 5, at a Cape Times editorial meeting, it was decided that the next day’s paper would lead with a story about tender irregularities in which Sekunjalo Marine Services, one of Survé’s companies, was implicated.
The company was investigated by the public protector. The protector found that an award to the company by the department of agriculture was irregular. Mandela’s death was announced at about 11:45pm on December 5, just after the Cape Times normally went to press. Dasnois and her team decided to keep the Sekunjalo story as the lead, but to cover Mandela’s death in a wraparound.
In papers, Danois says both Chris Whitfield and Karima Brown, executive editor of the INM group, were in the newsroom at the time and could have intervened if they had disagreed with Danois’s decision.
Shortly after the morning edition of the Cape Times was published, Dasnois says she was summonsed to a meeting. Dasnois says Survé told her she was “too ideologically left wing, [and] not business friendly enough”. She was told that she was being “offered another job”. But Dasnois told the meeting that she did not want this.
She was told not to go back to the Cape Times meeting by an angry Survé, she says.
She was later informed that after she left the room, Survé told other senior leaders of INM that keeping Dasnois at the Cape Times would mean that she would “simply have continued writing negative things about him in the newspaper”.
On December 9, Survé’s lawyers threatened to sue Dasnois and the reporter who wrote the Sekunjalo story unless a front page apology was issued. An apology was not published, and Survé did not sue. Once Abarder had been installed as editor, Dasnois alleges that Survé said, “I know the paper will also through its recalibration become business friendly.”
On 24 December, a column was published in the Cape Times slating the Mandela-editorial decision. Dasnois claims the piece was submitted to Survé and Brown before publication.
These “attacks” continued in the form of several other pieces published in the paper. It was claimed that a “cabal” was pushing an anti-transformation agenda. When financial settlement negotiations broke down between Dasnois and INM, she alleges that an investigation into the wraparound edition was threatened. It did not take place. But Dasnois was charged with misconduct in March, 2014. By May, a misconduct committee had found her guilty of several charges. Dasnois is disputing these findings in the Labour Court.
Meanwhile, Business Report deputy editor Peter De Lonne was fired on Thursday. De Lonne confirmed this on Friday and said he planned to challenge his dismissal, but would not be drawn into the reasons.
However, he confirmed that his dismissal was part of a broader issue at INM, which saw disciplinary processes against staff becoming “shockingly harsh”. During the meeting, Dasnois was later informed, Surve had allegedly threated to fire INM chief executive, Tony Howard, if he did not fire Dasnois.