Sunday Comment

Walter Mitty world of a media mogul

17 February 2019 - 00:00 By TERRY BELL

How can a businessman, shown to be at best a fantasist and to have deliberately lied about much of his background, continue to be fêted by groups such as the World Economic Forum and be effectively handed, through companies associated with him, an additional R4.3bn of pension fund savings?
That is a question about Iqbal Survé that cries out for an answer.
The question is pertinent because in 2013 Survé benefited, to the tune of R1.2bn, from the same funding pot belonging to the Government Employees Pension Fund.
The contribution from the pensioners amounted to about half the sale price - in equity and loans - for the ailing, asset-stripped Independent Newspapers group.
It seemed Survé was benefiting from his claimed close personal friendship with Nelson Mandela and for being his physician, "both on and off the island". It was a claim reinforced by published interviews and by the Harvard Business School in a reference paper (9-407-019) written by professor Linda Hill and researcher Emily Stecker, apparently after interviewing Survé.
But this proved to be false.
In June 2016 I taxed him with these and other claims and he insisted all were true. He noted with regard to Mandela: "To let you into a little secret, I have been busy with my autobiography over the last few months and you will appreciate that I do not want to spill all the beans and keep some facts out of the public domain to ensure the success of my autobiography."
No autobiography has emerged and there exists no evidence of Survé at any stage having attended Mandela as a doctor.
With hindsight, the extent of his extravagant claims was mind-boggling. They were apparently believed without any checking or confirmation.
Apart from the relationship to Mandela (and other struggle icons), he portrayed himself as a personal friend of Britain's Prince Charles and both a "fellow" and "inaugural fellow" of the "Prince of Wales's Business and Sustainability Programme", an honour that does not exist.
RELATED: Scrutiny needed of growing cloud over Survé’s head
He never responded to evidence that claims of being the "mind coach" of the Bafana team that won the 1996 Africa Nations Cup or being headhunted by the Indian cricket team were figments of his imagination.
I published these evident falsehoods among the many I had researched. Two months later, a response emerged. It came in the form of a full-page "exposé" in all of the metropolitan newspapers Survé controls.
Headlined "The dirty tricks campaign of disinformation against Independent Media", it claimed that there was a "campaign of falsification against Dr Survé, Independent Media and [Survé's company] Sekunjalo".
It was a conspiracy involving 12 named journalists "of a particular generation", most of whom "are white and are virulently anti a democratically elected government". The "exposé" claimed they were conducting a co-ordinated propaganda campaign to "undermine the reputation of Dr Survé, Independent Media and Sekunjalo".
It was, as one senior attorney noted, "a slam-dunk case of defamation". One of the named journalists, Gill Moodie, took the matter to the Press Council and won a demanded apology from the Independent Group. This was ignored and Independent Newspapers withdrew from the council.
Six others, including me, still have a high court case of defamation pending against the newspapers and the unnamed "Journalism Intern Investigative Unit, Independent Media". Like so much else concerning Iqbal Survé, we want to know how such a travesty came into being.
• Bell is an investigative journalist, labour columnist and economic analyst. His 'Inside Labour' column ran in Independent Media's Business Report for 18 years before being cancelled soon after Survé took over the group
RELATED: How ANC holy man scored on Iqbal Survé deal;
RELATED: Iqbal Survé's 'R300m BEE recipient' headquartered in RDP home;
RELATED: Iqbal Survé's ritzy Silo apartment buying spree

This article is reserved for Sunday Times subscribers.

A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times content.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Registered on the BusinessLIVE, Business Day, Financial Mail or Rand Daily Mail websites? Sign in with the same details.

Questions or problems? Email or call 0860 52 52 00.