As we Survé the ruins of a media group, what's to be done?
Seeing the GEPF now technically owns it, it might as well take a bash at running it. It couldn’t do it worse than Survé
The Survé Philanthropies might sound like a grunge band, but it isn’t. Rather, it (they?) is (are?) an organisation founded by Iqbal Survé to help those who have made a “social impact”. And who better to talk about social impacts than the guy who just punched a R1bn hole in the pension funds of 300,000 SA workers?
On Monday, just three days after the inaugural Survé Philanthropies’ Imagine Awards (a prize-giving organised by Survé’s daughter), news broke that the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF) is writing off Survé’s R1bn loan from the Public Investment Corporation (PIC).
To be fair, Survé wasn’t the worst of the deadbeats. According to BusinessLIVE, the GEPF also had R4.3bn invested in Steinhoff: there have been many contenders, but Marcus Jooste remains undefeated as perhaps the greatest lone destroyer of capital in this country’s modern times.
Survé, however, had done a much better job at disguising the slow collapse of his empire. Steinhoff exploded in full view, but Survé’s vandalism of the already burnt-out ruins of Independent Media happened behind a wall of smoke and hot air.
When he wasn’t damning his critics as anti-transformation racists, he was beaming out from the pages of his own newspapers or commissioning his most prostrate toadies to write odes to his mastery of the wind and conquest of the sun. It was astonishing, even awe-inspiring at times. Some people take selfies when they’re feeling insecure or vain. This guy bought an entire media company to do it for him.
The trouble is, he bought it with borrowed money he can’t pay back.
But there’s a solution to this problem; a beautiful solution proposed half in jest on Twitter by one of our finest journalists, the mighty Sam Sole: given that the GEPF now effectively owns Survé’s assets, how about it simply takes over and runs Independent Media?
As Sole rightly points out, the GEPF couldn’t do a worse job than Survé did, but I think that might be too cautious an approach. I think it would be brilliant. Some years ago I was the designated mail-opener for two government pensioners, and not only can the GEPF spell, but it also somehow resists the urge to print a photograph of its senior executive in every piece of correspondence it sends out. So it’s already ahead of the tragic skidmark formally known as The Cape Times.
Alas, it’s unlikely to happen: after being burned by Jooste and Survé, the bean counters at the GEPF are likely to be hypercautious. Besides, they say the best way to make a small fortune in media is to start with a large one.
Perhaps the best we can hope for is that some progressive billionaire buys Independent Media for the few bucks it’s worth and, for the first time in 30 years, looks at the name of the company and understands what that first word really means.