Fury and shades of Info Scandal

Andrew Molefe

Andrew Molefe

Opposition parties, media advocacy groups and members of the ANC tripartite alliance reacted angrily yesterday to an attempt to buy the powerful media company, Johncom, by people with ties to the ruling party.

Though the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) denied any involvement in the financing of the attempted R7billion takeover, several political organisations warned the corporation against financing the acquisition.

ANC cadres behind the deal are directors of Koni Media, and include President Thabo Mbeki's former political adviser Titus Mafolo, Foreign Affairs spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa, former chief of state protocol Billy Modise and businessman Groovin Nchabeleng.

Johnnic, which owns Sowetan, Sunday Times, Sunday World and Daily Dispatch among other titles, and is Africa's second-largest media and entertainment company, has a market value of R11,1 billion, according to markets analysts.

The Young Communist League (YCL) yesterday called for a public review of the PIC's role and of the funds at its disposal.

League spokesman Castro Ngobese said his organisation viewed the PIC's role in the deal as a broader reflection of how public or workers' funds were being irresponsibly used by state institutions to finance narrow and self-centred interests of public representatives.

"We believe that these funds at the disposal of the PIC should be re-channeled into structured developmental objectives in improving the conditions of the working class and the poor."

The DA said the R7billion offer was "highly reminiscent" of the apartheid government's bid to buy Johncom's predecessor, the South African Associated Newspapers, in the 1970s. The attempt failed and brought the Information Scandal to the South African lexicon with the state funding the launch of the Citizen newspaper.

The DA's Dene Smuts said arguments that those involved in the takeover bid were not fronting for the government were unpersuasive.

"We have yet to be persuaded that the deeper recesses of the Union Buildings - the Presidency and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs - are not involved."

This is not for the first time that public servants' retirement funds have been used to fund ANC bigwigs, said the YCL.

"The infamous Telkom shares bought by Elephant Consortium, in which Smuts Ngonyama played a key role, is a case in point," Ngobese said.

But PIC chief executive Brian Molefe denied a funding deal has been concluded with Koni Media.

"There's no truth in that."