MANYI TALKS

I know what I’ve signed up for

Sunday Times - - FRONT PAGE - By SABELO NDLANGISA

Mzwanele Manyi hopes to re­ha­bil­i­tate the im­age of the com­pany he has bought from the Gupta fam­ily and turn it into a se­ri­ous player in South Africa’s me­dia land­scape.

The fam­ily an­nounced on Mon­day that it had sold In­fin­ity Me­dia, which houses The New Age news­pa­per and ANN7 TV sta­tion, to the 54-year-old for­mer gov­ern­ment and cabi­net spokesman, for R450-mil­lion.

It did not take long for the newly minted me­dia mogul, whose pur­chase of its as­sets is be­ing fi­nanced by the Gupta fam­ily, to move into his new of­fice on the first floor of the firm’s head­quar­ters in Midrand. The of­fice, in the cor­ner of the daily news­pa­per’s news­room, used to be­long to Atul, the sec­ond-el­dest Gupta brother.

There’s some­thing clinical about its am­bi­ence, which is ac­cen­tu­ated by its un­adorned grey and white walls. Per­haps the only sign that it is the boss’s of­fice is the white bar-fridge at the cor­ner, stocked with soft drinks and bot­tled wa­ter.

This is where we meet the new owner of the me­dia sta­ble that has be­come syn­ony­mous with par­ti­san pol­i­tics since its es­tab­lish­ment al­most seven years ago.

Manyi has been busy field­ing calls and set­ting up meet­ings with a range of in­flu­en­tial peo­ple he would like to con­vince to sup­port his busi­ness. Ear­lier, he met the 500 peo­ple who staff his TV sta­tion and news­pa­per, to bring them up to speed with his plans for the com­pany.

Be­ing of­fice-bound is a change for the fa­ther of three. Be­fore he took up his new gig, he split his work­ing time be­tween his De­coloni­sa­tion Foun­da­tion, his in­vest­ment firm Afro­tone and the Pro­gres­sive Pro­fes­sion­als Fo­rum.

His late mother used to sell live­stock in the town­ships and be­queathed the run­ning of the busi­ness to him. So, in ad­di­tion to his other du­ties, when he’s not help­ing his el­dest son run his agro-pro­cess­ing busi­ness, Manyi can be found at a kraal in Mead­ow­lands, Soweto, tend­ing live­stock.

It’s a bit of a mys­tery where the owner of Lo­di­dox — who is also a lay preacher at Bantu Church of Christ — finds time for all these ac­tiv­i­ties. Then again, Manyi has al­ways been a man of many hats. He was head of both the Black Man­age­ment Fo­rum and the Com­mis­sion for Em­ploy­ment Eq­uity when he shot to fame more than a decade ago.

His dra­matic ap­pear­ances in par­lia­ment were once dubbed “the Jimmy Manyi show”. This is be­cause, in a sin­gle sit­ting of the labour port­fo­lio com­mit­tee, for in­stance, he would don his com­mis­sioner’s cap and de­nounce black ex­ec­u­tives as “house n***ers” in thrall to cor­po­rate South Africa — then reap­pear as the BMF pres­i­dent and rec­om­mend a crack­down on the of­fend­ing com­pa­nies. Where does he get the en­ergy? “I work on a 24-hour clock. I have no con­tract with sleep­ing. For­tu­nately, I am one of those peo­ple that are good sleep­ers. When I sleep, I die,” says the Sand­ton res­i­dent whose busi­nesses are head­quar­tered in his child­hood home in Soweto.

“Most of my work is in­tel­lec­tual work. So I can sit at home and send things out.”

He also uses his Sab­bath to un­wind when he’s not at church.

Manyi’s lat­est ac­qui­si­tion seems to be grossly over­priced, at R450-mil­lion for an out­fit that has strug­gled to at­tract ad­ver­tis­ing since al­le­ga­tions of state cap­ture by the Gupta fam­ily be­came public. It was, af­ter all, re­port­edly val­ued at be­tween R40mil­lion and R60-mil­lion a few months ago.

Ven­dor-fi­nanced em­pow­er­ment deals typ­i­cally in­volve the sale of stakes in firms at a dis­count to their un­der­ly­ing as­set value. Has Manyi been tricked into buy­ing a dud that might burn a huge hole in his pocket in the long run?

“I made in­quiries [about the val­u­a­tion]. I got a sat­is­fac­tory ex­pla­na­tion. That R50mil­lion val­u­a­tion do­ing the rounds was not a val­u­a­tion for the en­tire busi­ness. It was for a mi­nor­ity stake for who­ever was [buy­ing] at that time. That hap­pened some time ago. Things have changed dras­ti­cally from then. The im­por­tant thing is that it was just a frac­tion of the to­tal busi­ness. Then I wanted to know from the peo­ple what the per­cent­age of that stake was so I can com­pute to see how the num­bers talk to the R450-mil­lion.

“The ex­pla­na­tion was that there’s a dif­fer­ence be­cause when you buy and sell, that dis­cus­sion starts at a par­tic­u­lar point and then there’s al­ways ne­go­ti­a­tions and other con­sid­er­a­tions that come to the fore.

“So the end price, which you sell at, doesn’t talk to your rigid val­u­a­tion. It’s a sub­ject of ne­go­ti­a­tions be­cause there are all kinds of con­fi­den­tial things be­tween the buyer and the seller that you prom­ise each other,” he says.

The R450-mil­lion is the “dis­counted cash­flow eval­u­a­tion”— mean­ing it fac­tors in fu­ture cash earn­ings to de­ter­mine what the com­pany is worth at the mo­ment. That’s as clear as his ex­pla­na­tion gets.

Krila, as Manyi is also known, ap­peals to his author­ity as a for­mer banker to as­sure me that he knows what he has signed up for.

Al­though he’s now a fierce critic of “white mo­nop­oly cap­i­tal”, he spent part of his ca­reer as an ex­ec­u­tive at Peo­ple’s Bank and Bar­clays PLC. He also worked for blue-chip com­pa­nies such as Toyota, IBM and Tiger Brands be­fore he took up em­ploy­ment in the gov­ern­ment when Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma came to power in 2009. He was CEO of the Gov­ern­ment Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and In­for­ma­tion Sys­tem when his con­tro­ver­sial ten­ure ended in 2013.

“I have looked at the num­bers and I am very happy that what I am buy­ing is mak­ing sense,” he says.

News of the deal has been met with scep­ti­cism by those who think he is a Gupta front. The SACP, for ex­am­ple, said Manyi would just be the “gen­eral man­ager” of the as­sets.

Manyi says he is happy the ANC came out in sup­port of his new ven­ture.

“In life it doesn’t mat­ter what you do. You will al­ways find some­body that is not happy. It’s un­re­al­is­tic to think that when you do some­thing you will get una­nim­ity.

“I al­ways make an ex­am­ple with a very good man, Je­sus Christ. You would think there would be ab­so­lute una­nim­ity [about him], but they . . . killed the guy,” he says.

Part of his busi­ness strat­egy is to turn the news out­lets into “a con­veyor belt” for gov­ern­ment and busi­ness in­for­ma­tion. He says his sta­ble will run with gov­ern­ment in­for­ma­tion that is not con­sid­ered “news­wor­thy” by other out­lets. He also prom­ises to be po­lit­i­cally non­par­ti­san.

But how will he at­tract gov­ern­ment ad­ver­tis­ing if Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s pres­i­den­tial bid, with which he is openly associated, bombs at the ANC elec­tive con­fer­ence in De­cem­ber? He says ANN7 will give a plat­form to all the ANC lead­er­ship con­tenders and will not cover pol­i­tics in a fac­tional way.

He also prom­ises to abide by the Press Code, al­though he is non­com­mit­tal when asked if The New Age will re­sub­mit it­self to reg­u­la­tion by the Press Coun­cil af­ter pulling out in a huff two years ago.

“We have a par­tic­u­lar ap­proach to what we should be. Whether that is catered for in that en­vi­ron­ment is an­other story. For in­stance, main­stream me­dia is a news place. We want to be more than a news place. We want to be [about] news and in­for­ma­tion,” he says.

“Whether the reg­u­la­tory en­vi­ron­ment of the news me­dia ac­com­mo­dates that, it’s a mat­ter we must dis­cuss with the peo­ple con­cerned.”

He is not plan­ning to ring the changes where man­age­ment is con­cerned, and dis­misses ru­mours that axed SABC chief op­er­a­tions officer Hlaudi Mot­soe­neng is headed to Midrand. It is in­ter­est­ing that he is de­lib­er­ately avoid­ing be­ing seen as close to al­lies of the Gupta fam­ily like Mot­soe­neng, who au­tho­rised the now canned New AgeSABC break­fast show that raked in R20mil­lion a year for In­fin­ity Me­dia.

Avoid­ance of “the Gupta ef­fect” is also the rea­son he did not want to come in as the fam­ily’s em­pow­er­ment part­ner.

“That was part of the con­sid­er­a­tions when I was hav­ing dis­cus­sions with the Gup­tas, to say, ‘Guys, I don’t want to come and be your BEE part­ner. I just want to buy you out com­pletely be­cause the name Gupta just in­vokes anger in a whole range of peo­ple. So I don’t want to be deal­ing with that kind of sit­u­a­tion. I want to buy you out com­pletely.’ That’s what they’ve agreed to,” he says.

“I wanted them to clear the busi­ness as soon as pos­si­ble so that you mustn’t come here to meet me and then bump into Atul. They must clear out so that it’s clear that this is a new ar­range­ment.”

Which­ever way you look at this deal, Manyi has done well for him­self con­sid­er­ing his past as an ad­vo­cate for BEE and em­ploy­ment eq­uity. One of his past crit­ics la­belled him a “pro­fes­sional black”, as op­posed to a “black pro­fes­sional”, say­ing he had mas­tered the art of de­ploy­ing his black­ness as a po­lit­i­cal cur­rency.

Wear­ing many hats has en­sured that he uses his po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism to his busi­ness ad­van­tage. Part of the rea­son he left his job as director-gen­eral at the De­part­ment of Labour in 2010 was be­cause the Nor­we­gian am­bas­sador com­plained about his al­leged use of an of­fi­cial trip to that coun­try to con­duct pri­vate busi­ness.

How­ever, Manyi says he has never used his po­si­tion to feather his own nest. He says the fact that he is do­ing his first deal at the age of 54 is proof of that.

Manyi is known to doggedly de­fend a cause once he buys into it. As IBM’s director of BEE and cor­po­rate af­fairs in 2005, he strongly de­fended the IT multi­na­tional’s re­fusal to sell a stake to South Africans at the time. He still main­tains that such a deal would have “amounted to fake eq­uity”, say­ing it made more sense for the com­pany to trans­fer skills in­stead.

In the same vein, he de­fended Tiger Brands as its cor­po­rate af­fairs ex­ec­u­tive when it was ac­cused of bread price-fix­ing in 2007. He fa­mously said the com­pany did not ben­e­fit from par­tic­i­pat­ing in the bread car­tel, even though it even­tu­ally agreed to pay an ad­min­is­tra­tive fine of R99-mil­lion.

He has been act­ing true to form in de­fend­ing Zuma and the Gup­tas in the wake of their many scan­dals.

He plans to meet politi­cians across the spec­trum and other in­flu­en­tial peo­ple over the next few weeks to sell his busi­ness idea. For the char­tered mar­keter who trained as a ge­ol­o­gist, get­ting buy-in for a busi­ness so closely associated with the Gup­tas will be his hard­est sell by far.

The price is sub­ject to ne­go­ti­a­tion . . . there are all kinds of con­fi­den­tial things be­tween the buyer and the seller that you prom­ise each other

I wanted the Gup­tas to clear the busi­ness . . . you mustn’t come here to meet me and then bump into Atul

For in­stance, main­stream me­dia is a news place. We want to be more than a news place. We want to be [about] news and in­for­ma­tion

Pic­ture: Moeletsi Mabe

On Mon­day, for­mer gov­ern­ment spin doc­tor Mzwanele Manyi’s com­pany, Lo­di­dox, be­came the sur­prise new owner of The New Age news­pa­per and the ANN7 TV chan­nel.

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