Is Neo-Stratcom trying to destroy Sekunjalo and Iqbal Survé through a propaganda onslaught?

Published Apr 25, 2024


For over a decade, white-owned media giants like the Daily Maverick and News24 have relentlessly attacked their media rival, Dr Iqbal Survé, and his companies through a deluge of negative reporting.

Rather than fair criticism, these hostile outlets have engaged in an apparent disinformation campaign using smear tactics and propaganda hit pieces masquerading as journalism to unfavourably portray Survé's businesses.

Before the takeover of Independent Media through one of the Sekunjalo companies, Survé's name was not widely circulated in the mainstream media, let alone reported negatively. In fact, before that, he enjoyed positive coverage as a businessman, industrialist and philanthropist, even winning awards.

Since acquiring what was a hotly contested bid for Independent Media, one of South Africa's big four media groups, he has faced a never-ending barrage of negative media coverage and propaganda, some masquerading as news reports.

This background is critical for the public to understand the genesis of the propaganda we see about him and his outfit. The mainstream, especially white-owned media, has proven to operate with prejudiced bias against their opponents, and those hated by the establishment.

They identify a target for hate (be it a person or an organisation), and they consistently attack that target through smear campaigns expressed in their editorial stances.

Survé is one of the victims of such prejudice.

A striking example is the recent Press Council sanction against News24 in the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and businessman Adriano Mazzotti case. News24 editor Adriaan Basson and journalist Cebelihle Mthethwa insinuated and stated as fact that cigarette company Carnilinx and Mazzotti are major funders of both the EFF and its leader Julius Malema in two articles.

Reacting to the ruling, the EFF said these "insinuations and allegations have for years been presented as fact by many within the media fraternity, particularly those who have adopted an agenda to portray the EFF and its leadership in a negative light without any shred of evidence. At the lead of this crusade has been Adriaan Basson, who has frequently turned News24 into an anti-EFF pamphlet in particular, and an anti-African publication in general."

The EFF example highlights the modus operandi of the mainstream media, not only targeting individuals but also organisations, who are in the crosshairs of the white mainstream, and the establishment.

Independent Online(IOL) reported that "Sekunjalo Group slams Daily Maverick for disinformation campaign and hijacking the narrative". The company condemned what it describes as years of sustained propaganda and disinformation campaign orchestrated by the Daily Maverick against its chairman, Dr Iqbal Survé, and associated businesses.

The news article in the Daily Maverick, written by journalist Neesa Moodley against Survé, was the subject of the statement by Sekunjalo. After reading it, I agreed with Sekunjalo's view.

Moodley's article opened with a highly negative depiction of Survé, claiming that "despite years of controversy about companies failing to meet financial obligations", "Surve reckons his empire is cash rich and thriving". This opening sets the negative tone of the article, which Sekunjalo said hijacked an IOL story as a pretext to rehash old, debunked falsehoods about Dr Survé and the companies, regurgitating one-sided narratives to cause commercial harm.

I will not analyse that shoddy piece, as it is not fit to be a dog's breakfast. Sekunjalo dealt with it and was right when they said the Daily Maverick failed to adhere to basic journalistic standards. In effect, the latest hit piece simply rehashed old stories against Survé, as there were no recent developments to provide an opportunity to write negatively against him or his company. So, they went for the "wash, rinse,dry, repeat" strategy.

It is profoundly disheartening to witness black journalists like Neesa Moodley being complicit in leading vicious attacks, and writing hit pieces against black business leaders. Too many 'Uncle Toms' out there.

Analysis of the threads of reporting by opposition media about Survé reveals a common pattern of negative stories, hostile story angles and outright smear attacks against him and Sekunjalo.

I have written before that Survé has been caricatured in the most vulgar ways by cartoonists and called despicable names by the mainstream media, meant to drill and entrench public hate against him and his businesses.

Recently, after my fair opinion piece criticising Karyn Maughan's article, media colleagues reacted swiftly, invoking "journalistic ethics" mantra. Yet, when a black father, husband and businessman is depicted as a "naked emperor" and insulted by white racist cartoonists and journalists, virtue is suspended.

When black companies, organisations and leaders are consistently insulted, attacked, and depicted negatively, "journalistic integrity" does not apply. So much for hypocrisy.

It is sad to see how the white South African media has reverted to the Strategic Communications (STRATCOM) era tactics. It is safe to call their methods Neo-Stratcom, a new strain that has been modernised, turbo-boosted and peppered with sophistication.

The apartheid government's STRATCOM unit was involved in covert operations and disinformation campaigns against anti-apartheid activists. We see a similar pattern with how the white-owned media operates. Anyone who has been on the receiving end of their propaganda smear campaigns will attest.

As the late apartheid agent Paul Erasmus warned in his book, The Confessions of a STRATCOM Hitman, the word "STRATCOM" should not be used loosely. He writes, "Using the word as loosely as some South Africans do today, strips it of its intentional and intimate terror.

The diluted use of the word today empties out the pain it was designed to cause. We in Stratcom wanted to annihilate, not only get the odd positive story into the papers to prop up De Klerk. We were trained to permanently neutralise ideas, people or institutions, on behalf of the government of the day."

Erasmus continued, "Those who do this should study how Winnie was purposefully torn apart, using the state's unlimited resources and money." The consistent attacks against Survé, his companies, and many other blacks targeted by the white media mirror Erasmus' depiction.

The EFF also lamented years of negative portrayals of the party and its leadership. Jacob Zuma, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, John Hlophe, Matshela Koko and numerous other blacks have been subjected to "annihilation" by this neo-Stratcom media.

Reading Erasmus, neo-STRATCOM is going all out to try and destroy Survé and his businesses. The recent Daily Maverick article was another piece of the puzzle on their board.

*Edmond Phiri is an independent analyst and commentator.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.