Doing business in South African media: the case of Mzwanele Manyi

It’s a dirty game for one trick ponies, writes Ayanda Mdluli

TWO weeks ago, the controversial former government spin doctor Mzwanele Manyi did something that had never been done before.

After purchasing ANN7 and The New Age for R450 million from the infamous Gupta family, he was compelled to go on public television and prove to the world that he was the sole shareholder of Lodidox, a shelf company that acquired the TV station and newspaper through a vendor financing deal that has raised the ire of his competitors in the South African media landscape.

This was after Tiso Black Star, sent a letter of demand to Manyi, insisting that even though Lodidox is not a listed entity, he was required by law (thanks to a precedent setting case) to divulge the details of other parties who hold interests in Lodidox. Whether or not Manyi covered his tracks well is irrelevant, as those who bayed for his blood were left with egg on their faces after he proved to the world that the transaction was indeed legitimate.

As the ownership structure of media entities in South Africa continues to gradually change hands, albeit at a snail’s pace, it is important to note that a black man in this country does not get to become a media mogul without a bruising fight that opens up your eyes to the very sinister forces that control public perception in South Africa.

There are a number of examples of this such as when Dr Iqbal Surve acquired Independent News and Media for R2 billion from the Irish back in 2013. He was demonised by the likes of Media24 and Tiso Black Star to such an extent that his credibility was called into question.

The demonization became so ugly that seeds of discontent were sowed within the company in an effort to derail the transaction, with the likes of Peter Bruce and Anton Harber calling for the titles in the group to be chopped up and spread amongst themselves in a desperate attempt to retain control of who reads what and how.

Secondly, when Given Mkhari started up Power FM, currently one of SA’s leading black owned talk radio stations, a damning story about his alleged infidelity and personal life was published by the City Press – how convenient that this story popped up at such a ground breaking time for talk radio in SA in another attempt to perhaps demonize blackness in our landscape.

Last but not least, the editor of this very paper, Piet Rampedi almost saw the African Times die before it even started when a one trick pony from the Mail & Guardian and Amabhungane maliciously insinuated that the newspaper was funded by the Guptas.

This blatant demonization was applied in such a way that a female reporter tried to paint him as abusive on social media through the toothless SANEF. Through sheer resilience and dedication, today, the African Times is distributed in four provinces and in all the BP garages nationally.

The cases mentioned above are just the tip of the iceberg as within the corporate structures of white owned media houses, the industry becomes even dirtier as more black men and women continue to be maliciously demonized, often bordering on defamation and desecration of one’s professional integrity.

It appears, on the face of it that black people trying to gain a foot hold in the industry are often met with fierce resistance from their white owned counterparts.

Last week, once the dust had settled on the Manyi saga, I got a chance at the bite of the cherry through an interview with the man himself. He reiterated on the need for the narrative to change in the main stream media through balanced stories that reflect the realities of African people in South Africa.

“We need to truly understand the dynamics of what our people are facing in the business space, and it is important to not shy away from the things that are happening.

“We are currently on a back foot as black businessmen, which is a result of the heavy colonialist mentality that still governs our economic structures in the country,” explained Manyi.

On top of that colonial mindset, he further stipulated that anything black in the South African economy is greeted with suspicion.

“This is why I had to go on TV to show that I won this company amid demands to show proof that I won it.

“This is the extent to which black people are treated with mistrust and I think we need to take that as a point of departure when dealing with ownership and business in the media and other industries.

“Now more than ever, we need to be determined and reassert ourselves to shift from this mindset that is holding us back,” he said.

Despite all the negativity, Manyi said he remained very bullish that his newly acquired entities would be profitable. This is also in light of the industry facing a general downward slope.

“We will need to box cleverly and increase our readership especially when there is a reputational issue on the previous shareholders impacting the growth of the business.

“Despite that we are in a changing landscape, as much as the digital era is playing an integral part in shaping the growth of the industry, it is not true that newspapers will be extinct.

“In a developing country and continent, newspapers can still grow and have a significant role to play.

“All of this must happen in a commercial platform that also creates sustainability. It will be huge mistake if we do not deal with our news platforms with an afro centric approach.

“This will enable Africans to tell their own stories and get a chance to articulate themselves,” he said.

Ayanda Mdluli is African Times Business Editor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: