South African billionaire Dr Iqbal Survé spends R700m of own funds on strategic buy-back

Sekunjalo chairman Dr Iqbal Survé has in the last year has repurchased assets valued at more than R5 billion. Picture: Supplied

Sekunjalo chairman Dr Iqbal Survé has in the last year has repurchased assets valued at more than R5 billion. Picture: Supplied

Published Apr 11, 2024


IN a groundbreaking move reshaping South Africa’s financial, fishing, investment and media sectors, billionaire businessman and philanthropist Dr Iqbal Survé in the last year has repurchased assets valued at more than R5 billion.

This manoeuvre follows the delisting of Premier Food and Brands (PFB) and African Equity Empowerment Investments (AEEI), which is one of the first black listed companies in South Africa amid sustained smear campaigns by media rivals and politicians of Survé's Independent Media conglomerate.

The strategic buy-back by Survé, who owns Independent Media, South Africa’s largest newspaper business, is set to send shockwaves through the nation’s economic landscape.

The move comes amid relentless attacks by media entities such as “Daily Maverick”, Arena and Media24, tarnishing the reputation of Survé's ventures and prompting threats from local banks acting under political instruction to shut the accounts of associated companies. Survé’s group has successfully won numerous court cases against the banks.

Survé’s role as the chairperson of Independent Media, which boasts the largest newspaper and online business in South Africa, positions him as a central figure in the country’s media and financial sectors.

The decision to delist was also influenced by what the group described as the years-long weaponisation of the JSE and the stock exchange's venture into the political arena of businesses.

Survé’s companies argue that the JSE’s perceived bias and politicisation have created untenable operating conditions, particularly for black-owned enterprises. By delisting, they aim to insulate themselves from perceived political interference and operate in an environment more conducive to their businesses.

Some of the businesses had experienced significant losses, amounting to tens of billions of rand, which the group attributes to negative media, government, and corporate and economic sabotage.

As a result of these actions, which the group believes were designed to drive down the value of the businesses, lawsuits have been filed against the institutions accused of orchestrating this campaign.

Survé’s detractors thought that by smearing him and his business and by causing the share prices to drop they would punish him for his independent views. They also thought that this would force him to sell his businesses or prepare for a hostile takeover of the businesses under distress.

Instead, Survé as one of smarter businessman in the country bought back these shares from institutions and private investors – consolidating and protecting the investments from corporate hijacking.

These investments now become part of Survé private empire with tens of billions of rand worth of investment assets (more than 200 companies ) and a cash pile of several billion rand in South Africa.

The Survé Family Office in Switzerland also manages a fund of several billion dollars in partnership with two Middle Eastern royal families. These investments include tech investments in EV and e-commerce companies listed in New York and China.

Notably, at the time of AEEI initial listing in 1999, Survé became the youngest CEO of a main board listed company, underscoring his long-standing commitment to innovation and transformation within the South African corporate landscape.

While the delistings represent a strategic response to hostile market conditions and a hostile JSE that targeted Survé’ companies, they also raise concerns about the implications for diversity and transformation within South Africa’s economic sphere.

The withdrawal of these entities from the public markets signals a retreat from a symbol of post-apartheid economic progress, highlighting the challenges faced by black-owned businesses in navigating predominantly white corporate landscapes.

Survé’s adept navigation amid adversity demonstrates a profound understanding of the interplay between media, public perception, and financial markets. By leveraging negative publicity to repurchase shares at reduced rates, he buys significant assets and positions his businesses for strategic rebuilding away from the pressure of weaponised public institutions.

The public listing of these companies was a landmark achievement in the country’s post-apartheid era, symbolising the potential for black entrepreneurship and leadership within the highest echelons of business.

This move not only removes significant assets (about 40 companies) from the claws of potentially detrimental media campaigns, but also positions Survé to rebuild and re-strategise away from the glaring scrutiny of public markets.

However, the story raises questions about the media’s impact on the economy by demonstrating how narrative can have more of an impact than substance. It highlights the critical importance of a fair and balanced media landscape that encourages constructive criticism without crossing into harmful realms.

When it comes to developing diverse and inclusive economic systems, the credibility of the media plays a crucial role, especially for developing nations like South Africa.

The strategic withdrawal of Survé from the JSE, which was caused by attacks in the media, highlights the obstacles that black-owned businesses in South Africa face and demonstrates his commercial acumen and resilience.

As these companies regroup and chart their paths forward in the private realm, the episode serves as a poignant reminder of the work that remains in building a truly inclusive and equitable economic landscape in South Africa.

Survé’s detractors thought that by smearing him they would cost him billions, but instead he has had the last laugh by now adding to his billion dollars portfolio.