Black empowerment has been a hot topic in South Africa since
President Nelson Mandela came to power in 1994, but it was only last
year that it swept into the media arena with a vengeance. So much so,
that by the middle of 1997, two of the country’s four big printing and
publishing groups are likely to be controlled by new black owners.
Leading the assault on this former all-white bastion is the National
Empowerment Consortium, a group of more than 50 disparate black
organisations headed by Mandela’s one-time heir apparent, Cyril
The business-oriented Ramaphosa left the government last year after
losing the battle for succession to his rival, Thabo Mbeke. This shift
from politics to business was carried out with the blessing of the
President, who saw it as a chance for Ramaphosa to spearhead a drive for
more black influence, especially in the media.
He hit home almost immediately, seizing control of the country’s two
most influential financial papers, the Financial Mail and Business Day,
last October. This was achieved by effectively buying Times Media
Limited (TML) through its principal shareholder, Anglo’s diversified
industrial group, Johnnic.
The Financial Mail, in particular, has a history of standing up for what
it feels is right, regardless of the government of the day, and has been
a thorn in the side of previous white-dominated administrations, as well
as the Mandela government.
So the purchase by Ramaphosa’s group was viewed with deep suspicion,
particularly by the Mail’s outspoken editor, Nigel Bruce, and his
freelance editor-at-large, David Gleason.
Fearing editorial interference - a charge vehemently denied by
management - the pair have now quit the Mail and bought its much smaller
and ailing rival, Finance Week. At the same time, TML sold half its
interest in the two papers to the UK-based Pearson group, and replaced
Bruce as editor with an English journalist of the same name, Peter
Another key media group that is likely to gain substantial black
shareholding this year is the Afrikaans publisher, Perskor, which is
planning to sell a significant stake to the black empowerment group,
Kagiso Trust Investment. A second Afrikaans publisher, Naspers, has also
seen the writing on the wall, and added black directors to its board. It
also aims to hive off its black newspaper publishing firm, City Press,
to a black consortium, and its educational book interests to a joint
venture company with strong black representation called Vuna Industrial
The fourth major media group in South Africa is the former Argus group
of newspapers, which runs all of the country’s major English language
newspapers, including the Johannesburg Star, the Cape Times and the Cape
Argus. This is now owned by Tony O’Reilly’s Independent Newspapers, a
group which has very good relations with the government - too good,
according to some critics.
Dramatic changes are sweeping the media world in South Africa, as
foreign companies start to move in and black groups seek more influence.
Observers are hoping that the traditional role, particularly of the
English press, will not be undermined in the process.
NEC owns 35% of Johnnic
Johnnic owns 45% of Omni Media
Omni Media owns 91.5% of Times Media
Times Media and Pearson own 50% each of Financial Mail and Business Day