Media mogul Koos Bekker’s betrayal

Koos Bekker, billionaire and chairman of Naspers. picture: file

Koos Bekker, billionaire and chairman of Naspers. picture: file

Published Jun 21, 2024


Koos Bekker, the Chairman of Naspers, has been a controversial figure in the South African media landscape.

His tenure has seen significant changes, including the closure of traditional Afrikaner media outlets such as Beeld and Rapport and strategic financial manoeuvres that have raised questions about his intentions and loyalty to the South African market.

Furthermore, the response of Media24 and the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) to media restructuring efforts highlights a perceived hypocrisy.

Let me unpack.

Closure of Afrikaner Media Outlets

Beeld and Rapport, among other titles, have been stalwarts of Afrikaner media for decades. These publications played a crucial role in shaping public opinion and maintaining a cultural identity for the Afrikaner community in South Africa. Beeld, in particular, was known for its extensive coverage of Afrikaner issues, while Rapport served as a leading Afrikaner Sunday newspaper going back a long time ...

Under Bekker's leadership, Naspers shifted its focus from traditional print media to digital and global markets. This strategic pivot was driven by declining revenues in print media worldwide and the rapid rise of the Internet and digital platforms.

The closure of Beeld and Rapport was part of Bekker’s broader consolidation and digitalisation strategy. While these moves made economic sense from a business perspective, they were seen by many as a betrayal of Naspers' roots and its historical commitment to Afrikaner culture.

The loss of these titles meant a significant reduction in the presence of Afrikaner voices in the media landscape, perceived as a cultural and societal loss.

Financial Manoeuvring and Internationalisation

In 2019, Naspers listed its international internet assets on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange under a new entity called Prosus. Critics argue that this listing effectively moved a significant portion of Naspers' value and future growth prospects out of South Africa.

While the company maintained its primary listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, creating Prosus was a signal that Naspers was looking to reduce its South African exposure and prioritise international markets.

Independent Media Editor-in-Chief, Adri Senekal de Wet. Picture: Ian Landsberg

Appointing Phuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa

In 2019, Naspers appointed Phuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa as the CEO of Naspers South Africa. This appointment was seen as part of Naspers' strategy to strengthen its operations and stakeholder relationships within South Africa.

Some interpreted the appointment of Mahanyele-Dabengwa, who has close ties to influential figures in South African politics and business, including Cyril Ramaphosa, as a move to secure favourable conditions for Naspers' operations in South Africa.

Naspers' international listing and investment strategies facilitated significant capital outflows from South Africa. Naspers effectively moved substantial financial resources out of the country by channelling profits from its global investments, particularly Tencent, into offshore entities. This raised concerns about the impact on South Africa's economy, particularly in terms of lost tax revenues and investment capital.

For many South Africans, especially within the Afrikaner community, these actions were seen as a betrayal. Naspers, once a cornerstone of Afrikaner enterprise, was abandoning its roots and prioritising international growth over local commitments. The perception that Bekker and his executive team immensely profited while diminishing Naspers' South African identity further fuelled these sentiments.

Media24's Campaign Against Independent Media

When Independent Media underwent restructuring, Media24 launched an aggressive campaign to discredit Dr Iqbal Survé, the Chairman of Independent Media. This included extensive negative coverage and accusations aimed at undermining Survé's credibility and business practices. This aggressive stance aimed to weaken a competitor and deflect attention from Media24's issues.

The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) was also criticized for its perceived double standards. While it was vocal about the challenges faced by Independent Media under Survé, its reporting on the closure of Naspers titles was more subdued. This disparity in coverage and critique was viewed as hypocritical, suggesting a bias in favour of Naspers and against Independent Media.

Dr Iqbal Survé's Leadership at Independent Media

Since taking over Independent Media, Dr Iqbal Survé has appointed the most female editors on the African continent. This significant achievement has not only promoted gender equality within the media industry but has also brought diverse perspectives to the forefront of South African journalism.

Under Survé's leadership, Independent Media has offered balanced opinion pieces to South Africans, giving a voice to those previously deprived of such a platform. This inclusive approach has allowed for a wider range of views and opinions to be represented, contributing to a more vibrant and democratic public discourse.

Independent Media has also been at the forefront of exposing corruption, including the misdeeds of politicians and corporate magnates. These investigative efforts have held powerful individuals accountable and provided the public with critical information about corruption and malpractice.

This transparency has not been well-received by some elements within the current government, who have historically used various media platforms for propaganda since the days of Apartheid.

Let me conclude: Bekker's tenure at Naspers has been marked by significant transformation and controversy. While his strategic decisions have positioned Naspers as a global tech powerhouse, they have also led to the erosion of traditional Afrikaner media and raised questions about his commitment to South Africa.

The closure of Beeld and Rapport, the listing of Prosus in the Netherlands, and the appointment of Mahanyele-Dabengwa reflect a broader shift towards global markets and digital platforms. However, these moves have not been without criticism, as many view them as a betrayal of Naspers' legacy and prioritisation of personal and corporate gain over national and cultural loyalty.

Moreover, the contrasting responses to the restructuring efforts of Naspers and Independent Media highlight issues of media bias and hypocrisy. Media24's campaign against Dr. Iqbal Survé and the differing tones in Sanef's reporting underscores the complex dynamics and vested interests within South Africa's media industry.

Under Survé's leadership, Independent Media has championed gender equality, offered balanced opinion pieces, and exposed corruption, challenging the status quo and providing a platform for previously marginalised voices.

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media freedom