South Africa:‘Operation Hlanza’- Independent Media’s Plan To Topple Ramaphosa

South Africa’s second-largest media house, Independent Media, has launched a secretive plan to help topple President Cyril Ramaphosa as leader of the ANC in December.

News24 can reveal that the plan, titled Operation Hlanza, which means “cleanse” or “clean”, was shared with senior editors and political journalists in the group, that owns titles like IOL, The Star, The Mercury and Cape Argus, at a confidential meeting in Durban on Monday.

Authored by The Star’s editor, Sifiso Mahlangu, the document is clear in its anti-Ramaphosa stance and preference for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the cooperative governance and traditional affairs minister, to take over as leader of the governing party.

The ANC’s elective conference is scheduled for 16 to 20 December at Nasrec in Johannesburg.

“The election of Cyril Ramaphosa as president of the ANC was a disastrous tenure for the fourth estate, for Independent Media it was a season of its weakening.

“In the past five years, Ramaphosa and his cabal have attempted every trick in the book to shut down Sekunjalo Holdings, the target was and remains Independent Media,” writes Mahlangu in the “context” section of the Operation Hlanza document.

“Independent Media’s transformative stance and brand of news has irked the country’s number one [Ramaphosa]. After heavy attempts to co-opt, persuade and silence our newsrooms, his final hand will be to permanently shut down Independent Media, using the banks, the judiciary, organs of state and wherever his reach extends to,” the document reads, adding:

This election is critical for the Republic as it is for Independent Media.

Former president Jacob Zuma has in recent weeks also thrown his weight behind Dlamini-Zuma to defeat Ramaphosa.

Owned by businessman Iqbal Survé’s Sekunjalo group, courtesy of loans from the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) and two Chinese state-owned companies, Independent Media has singled out Ramaphosa for criticism in its titles, but this is the first, official proof of a concerted campaign by a media house to unseat the president.

Under Survé’s ownership, the group has withdrawn from the Press Council of South Africa, that self-regulates local journalism through the office of the Press Ombudsman. The company initiated its own “press code” and appointed an internal ombudsman.

According to the group’s press code, news should be reported “accurately”, “honestly motivated” and not be “misleading” or “distorted”. The company’s press code is silent on political interests and bias, but states “conflicts of interest must be avoided”.

It is unclear how Independent Media’s editorial heads, including editor-in-chief Aziz Hartley, who is listed as a member of Operation Hlanza, can defend a formal anti-Ramaphosa coverage plan in terms of the code.

The “coverage plan” of Operation Hlanza includes the following verbatim pointers under “lead up”, presumably to the December ANC conference:

  • “NDZ may be best candidate for the job”;
  • “Public Protector may still find against Ramaphosa” [presumably with reference to the Phala Phala investigation];
  • “CR may be the ANC’s last president in government”;
  • “Revolt in ANC branches over provinces pronouncing without branches”; and
  • “Arthur Frazer (sic) dishes out more dirt on Cyril”.

Survé has long alleged that he and Sekunjalo are facing an unprecedented “vendetta” by “the establishment” to silence and destroy them.

Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Vincent Magwenya said they expected “all media houses in the exercise of their constitutionally enshrined rights to do their work in a manner that is non-partisan, objective, fact based and does not harm any citizen’s right or impugn the image or character of any individual”.

Sekunjalo Investment Holdings, which is owned by a Survé family trust, is a holding company with interests in technology, fishing, media and medical sectors. One of its subsidiaries is Independent Media.

In July this year, News24 Business reported that Survé and Sekunjalo announced that they had applied to review the finding of the Mpati Commission, which had looked at alleged impropriety at the PIC. The inquiry published its 995-page final report in March 2020.

Survé and Sekunjalo want the courts to rule that the commission of inquiry appointed by the president reached conclusions that were “unjustified and inconsistent” with the evidence before it. They have asked the court to compel the commission to “expunge” all findings made about Sekunjalo entities.


Iqbal Survé.
Fin24Lerato Maduna

One of the investments the Mpati inquiry looked at was the PIC’s decision to subscribe to all of the shares of AYO Technology Solutions, an indirect subsidiary of Sekunjalo, News24 Business reported.

When AYO listed on the JSE in December 2017, the PIC bought all its shares at issue for R4.3 billion. The group’s shares have since plunged by over 90%. The PIC has instituted court action to recoup the R4.3 billion, which Sekunjalo is opposing.

Survé and Sekunjalo in July argued that the commission had “unlawfully” changed its terms of reference to allow it to investigate companies in the Sekunjalo stable.

The report’s findings, they argued, were also part of a “campaign” to torpedo the Sekunjalo group.

The Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture heard evidence that the State Security Agency paid R20 million to African News Agency, an entity in Independent Media, to “train” SSA analysts and publish positive stories to counter bad publicity about the Zuma government.




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