A vi­sion for our me­dia to flour­ish

The Star Early Edition - - BUSINESS NEWS - What do you think needs to be done to grow our econ-

IT HAS been a year since Dr Iqbal Survé, the ex­ec­u­tive chair­man of In­de­pen­dent Me­dia, took over In­de­pen­dent News­pa­pers. This past week, he sat down with Aakash Bramdeo, the ed­i­tor of Sun­day Tri­bune, and deputy ed­i­tor Mazwi Xaba for a chat:

What does Sekun­jalo mean and what is the think­ing be­hind the name for the company?

Sekun­jalo is a isiXhosa name which means “now is the time”. It’s also got a Se­sotho ver­sion. When the company was formed, it was in re­sponse to the re­quire­ments of the coun­try to trans­form. We said the name of the company should re­flect the val­ues, the his­tory, the con­nec­tion with peo­ple as well as the fact that we were at an im­por­tant time in our eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion.

Fur­ther­more, “Sekun­jalo, ke nako”, “now is the time” was a song Madiba jived to when he was on the stage in the build-up to the first demo­cratic elec­tion.

What’s your vi­sion for In­de­pen­dent News­pa­pers?

First, it is a rights-based vi­sion. It’s pos­si­ble to bring dig­nity to our coun­try and to use the re­sources of our peo­ple to do that. Sec­ond, we want to de­liver a prod­uct or ser­vice to peo­ple that re­ally brings value to them. Third, we have a so­cial mis­sion to pro­vide em­ploy­ment, build so­cial co­he­sion and achieve growth, bring dig­nity to peo­ple.

Was buy­ing In­de­pen­dent News­pa­pers a van­ity pur­chase?

The decision was re­ally in­spired by my daugh­ter. She felt what was re­flected in the Cape Town pa­pers was dis­tant to what she was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing and what those around her were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing. So I started off by go­ing to the Ir­ish to pur­chase the Cape Times and that was well be­fore the Ir­ish­men were even con­sid­er­ing sell­ing any­thing.

So it was not based on any kind of silly van­ity project be­cause I don’t make de­ci­sions that way. Vain peo­ple buy very ex­pen­sive cars and aero­planes and boats and live in fancy houses. I’m ex­actly the op­po­site. I live a very sim­ple life.

Do you want your news­pa­pers and their as­so­ci­ated plat­forms to be­come the mouth­pieces of the ANC?

It does not make any business sense to be a mouthpiece for any­body. The best thing we can do for our democ­racy and our coun­try is to be bal­anced, give all points of view, be crit­i­cal but fair, give the right of re­ply and to in­form. If we do that, I think the ANC will ben­e­fit tremen­dously. I think the gov­ern­ment will ben­e­fit tremen­dously. But op­po­si­tion par­ties will also ben­e­fit be­cause we will be pro­vid­ing a valu­able so­cial ser­vice to our peo­ple.

The best safe­guard to ed­i­to­rial free­dom is to make sure you are prof­itable, that you build from the bot­tom up, that you democra­tise your work­place and up­hold the val­ues of bal­ance and fair­ness.

I have not had any call ever from any mem­ber of the ANC ask­ing us for any­thing. On the con­trary, I’ve had many calls from the DA to try to in­flu­ence the po­si­tion of our pa­pers. My re­sponse has al­ways been: “I am very happy to give you the num­ber of the ed­i­tor. But the only thing I can guar­an­tee is that the ed­i­tor will lis­ten to you.”

What is your per­spec­tive on the change of lead­er­ship on some of the ti­tles?

Change is good. It brings fresh en­ergy. It brings in­no­va­tion and di­ver­sity. In­de­pen­dent is one of the old­est me­dia com­pa­nies in the coun­try. But some­times they op­er­ated like they did decades ago. There was no change.

My re­spon­si­bil­ity is to make sure our ti­tles re­flect the di­ver­sity of our coun­try. A news­pa­per re­flects the opin­ion of the so­ci­ety it op­er­ates in. It is a mir­ror of that so­ci­ety. But you can only do that if your ed­i­to­rial team is re­flect­ing that so­ci­ety.

So we have many good ed­i­tors but the changes I made should re­flect the di­ver­sity of the coun­try. They were based on non-racial­ism, they were based on the prin­ci­ple of equal­ity and the pro­mo­tion of very com­pe­tent peo­ple.

Is there a role for whites in the company?

Look first at the val­ues and prin­ci­ples by which I op­er­ate, which are rights-based val­ues and prin­ci­ples. I am a non­ra­cial­ist at heart. That’s what Madiba fought for. I be­lieve in the dig­nity of peo­ple and I be­lieve it is in­fan­tile to think in terms of race when mak­ing de­ci­sions. How­ever, this does not mean we must not un­der­stand the im­pact apartheid had and the legacy it left on our coun­try. When you make de­ci­sions based on the fu­ture of your

We are ahead of our own ob­jec­tives but we have a long way to go to achieve a sus­tain­able business.

coun­try it is re­ally im­por­tant to stand firm on the prin­ci­ples of non-racial­ism. And in that re­spect I am de­lighted that my ap­point­ments have been across the colour lines – Kevin Ritchie heads up The Star, Fik­ileNt­sikelelo Moya at The Mer­cury, Gas­ant Abarder at Cape Times and Yo­gas Nair at Post. Th­ese re­flect real di­ver­sity.

Are you happy with the progress you have made in the me­dia business?

I think we’re ahead of where we wanted to be. We’re very pleased that on the tech­nol­ogy front we’ve been able to leapfrog some of our com­peti­tors. The ef­fi­cien­cies we’ve been able to make in the business with­out re­trench­ments have been phe­nom­e­nal.

Me­dia24 let go of 486 peo­ple in the past year and the Times Group 130 peo­ple. We have a net em­ploy­ment of 64 peo­ple, which is un­be­liev­able in this eco­nomic cli­mate. So we’re def­i­nitely ahead of the game. We are ahead of our own ob­jec­tives but we have a long way to go to achieve a sus­tain­able business. I’d say at least one year of hard work lies ahead of us.

What is the se­cret of your suc­cess?

The first is to re­spect every­body. Un­der­stand­ing the dig­nity of peo­ple is fun­da­men­tal to what you do. Treat peo­ple like you would want them to treat you be­cause your suc­cess is not built on you alone. There are many peo­ple who con­trib­uted to the suc­cess I have to­day.

The sec­ond thing is that you must be clear about what it is that you want and you must be se­ri­ous about that. The third thing is that you must be re­silient. The fourth is that you must have the ca­pac­ity to be fo­cused. You must lis­ten but not be di­verted by the noise.

You also need to be loosely cou­pled – you need to un­der­stand your view­point can change based on the con­tex­tual cir­cum­stances you are in­volved in.

Fun­da­men­tally, suc­cess is de­pen­dent on mul­ti­ple fac­tors, but life is also a lot­tery. Many peo­ple have the po­ten­tial and ca­pac­ity to be suc­cess­ful but, due to life’s cir­cum­stances, they don’t get there. As a re­sult, one must al­ways have hu­mil­ity about one’s suc­cess.

What ad­vice would you give other up-and-com­ing business peo­ple, es­pe­cially black en­trepreneurs?

Choose care­fully what you want to do. Fo­cus on it and build on it. Peo­ple will try many dif­fer­ent things hop­ing that one of them will be the goose that lays the golden egg, but by do­ing that you spread your en­ergy among many dif­fer­ent in­vest­ments and op­por­tu­ni­ties. What you should do is fo­cus on one op­por­tu­nity and then spend your time and en­ergy driv­ing it.

But not ev­ery­one is an en­tre­pre­neur. It’s im­por­tant to know that. Some­times peo­ple be­come en­trepreneurs for the wrong rea­son. They do it to be­come wealthy. I think if you put money as the rea­son why you want to be­come an en­tre­pre­neur, it is the wrong rea­son.

Why did you step down from Sekun­jalo In­vest­ments?

The Sekun­jalo Group has dif­fer­ent legs to it. There is the pub­lic-listed company and there is the in­vest­ment hold­ing company. I left the listed company at a time when as­sets have ex­ceeded a bil­lion. They were grow­ing at a phe­nom­e­nal rate and there was just a su­per team in place.

It is al­ways bet­ter to leave when you are at the top. But it is never easy when you are the founder of the company.

What will be your role in the me­dia business?

In­de­pen­dent is a very ex­cit­ing place to be be­cause of the op­por­tu­nity to change a legacy print me­dia company to a con­tent-based tech­no­log­i­cal me­dia company that grows. To me, that’s a mar­vel­lous op­por­tu­nity in my lifetime.

What are your thoughts on our 20 years of democ­racy?

One has to al­ways mea­sure things by where you come from and where you are go­ing. Where we come from was a vi­o­lent, racist, in­sti­tu­tion­alised so­cial sys­tem de­signed to en­slave the majority of the peo­ple, who hap­pened to be poor. As chal­leng­ing as our democ­racy is, to­day it is def­i­nitely bet­ter than the sys­tem un­der which we were.

We are a young democ­racy and we have a long way to go. But I think our democ­racy is in a very good place. We need to re­spect the in­sti­tu­tions set up by our con­sti­tu­tion – the Chap­ter Nine in­sti­tu­tions, par­lia­men­tary and ju­di­cial in­sti­tu­tions. The day you don’t is the day you cre­ate chaos in our democ­racy.

Noth­ing in life is with­out a chal­lenge. But I am an op­ti­mist about the fu­ture of South Africa and I am a firm be­liever that we will fix some of our prob­lems.

How do you feel about Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma as our pres­i­dent?

You re­spect your pres­i­dent. I re­spected Madiba, Thabo Mbeki, Kgalema Mot­lanthe. And now I re­spect Ja­cob Zuma. I think if you are a demo­crat, that is what you do. If He­len Zille were to­mor­row to be­come pres­i­dent of the coun­try, I would re­spect her.

On a per­sonal level I think the pres­i­dent is a very good man – a warm per­son. Has he got flaws? Of course. I don’t think there is any ques­tion about that. But does that mean one must not re­spect the pres­i­dent of the coun­try?

How­ever, my opin­ion about any leader of any po­lit­i­cal party is not nec­es­sar­ily im­por­tant to my be­ing a me­dia owner. My ed­i­tors should not con­sider my opin­ion whether I support He­len Zille or Ja­cob Zuma or any­one else. What they must con­sider is whether th­ese are good lead­ers, whether they re­spect the in­sti­tu­tions, and how they pro­mote our democ­racy.

omy to cre­ate jobs and re­duce poverty and in­equal­ity?

It comes down to lead­er­ship. As cit­i­zens we de­mand good lead­er­ship from our gov­ern­ment. Let us sim­i­larly de­mand good lead­er­ship from cap­tains of in­dus­try. Ev­ery decision we take must be about the fu­ture. The rea­son the Chi­nese are so suc­cess­ful is be­cause their de­vel­op­ment is based on 50-year plans ex­e­cuted on five-year terms. Our mind­set needs to change.

Is Chi­nese trade with Africa only ben­e­fit­ing China?

Show me an in­vestor that in­vests for non-profit pur­poses. Then it is not an in­vestor but a donor. But even donors act in their na­tional in­ter­ests. We must grow up. Of course in­vestors will want a re­turn on in­vest­ment. The no­tion that we should not ac­cept Chi­nese money be­cause they want re­sources is a false no­tion be­cause ev­ery­one wants re­sources as well. We must ac­cept we live in a glob­alised world and glob­al­i­sa­tion means the trans­fer of cap­i­tal, re­sources and peo­ple.

It is the re­al­ity in which we op­er­ate. So, in that re­spect, wel­come to the glob­alised world. This Q+A was first pub­lished in the Sun­day Tri­bune.


Newly ap­pointed Daily News deputy ed­i­tor Slindile Khany­ile is con­grat­u­lated by In­de­pen­dent Me­dia ex­ec­u­tive chair­man Dr Iqbal Survé, who has been at the group’s helm for a year.

The Star ed­i­tor Kevin Ritchie

Sun­day Tri­bune deputy ed­i­tor Mazwi Xaba

Mer­cury ed­i­tor Fik­ile Nt­sikelelo Moya

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