Rumours of the sale of Independent News and Media South Africa started long before the Sekunjalo Independent Media Consortium (SIM), headed by Dr Iqbal Survé, announced that it was to buy the group for R2 billion. Irish parent company, Independent News and Media, announced on Monday that it had approved the sale of its South African arm to Survé’s SIM consortium.
Staff at the Independent Group wanted to prepare the eventual sale of the company, and to do so, set up the Indie Trust, a body open to all staff. “If there is to be a sale, we should make sure that journalists and other staff are in a position to get a stake of some sort so that we can have a say in the future of our newspapers and help to realise the great potential this company has,” the Trust said.
The SIM consortium has played the stakeholders card close to its chest, and despite enormous pressure on many fronts, refused to divulge the complete shareholding, with Survé saying he would reveal all on 20 June.
The Indie Trust, with union partner Mwasa, made a submission to the Competition Commission, questioning the consortium’s intentions regarding staff, and job security. The SIM consortium, in its submission, said the “proposed transaction will not have an adverse effect on employment as no retrenchments are envisaged as a result of same”.
There was no word on the Indie Trust and whether it would be given a stake in the new company. It had asked to buy a 25% shareholding, but hadn’t managed to secure investors to pay for the stake. Then Moneyweb last week broke the news that the staff trust was to be awarded a 10% share.
“The consortium, which is buying Independent Newspapers, is reportedly allocating a 10% stake in its interest in the company to staff. And staff “would not be required to put forward any funding” for the shareholding,” wrote Sipho Ncgtobo.
The Media Online asked trustees of the Indie Trust to confirm the story. “We note with interest that the Sekunjalo Independent Media Consortium, led by Dr Iqbal Surve, which is buying Independent Newspapers South Africa, has allocated a 10% stake in its shareholding in the company to staff,” said trustee Alide Dasnois (Cape Times) on behalf of the trust, and fellow trustees Ann Crotty (Business Report) and Mwasa’s Tuwani Gumani.
“The Independent Staff Trust, backed by the Media Workers Association of SA, has been attempting for some months to persuade Dr Survé of the importance of bringing staff on board as a key part of a consortium which apparently – though details are still not available – includes other trade union interests and community groups. We welcome his decision to include staff as shareholders,” the Trust said.
But the group is unconvinced that a 10% stake would give them a “meaningful say in the future of the company”.
“Staff are the company’s main asset after all these years of cost cutting by the former owners and a significant stake for staff is the best protection against further asset stripping and deterioration of the quality of our newspapers,” the trustees said.
They have called on Survé and partners to “reconsider” 10% in favour of the requested 25%.