Guest Column

That “other Mandela doctor” is at it again

2017-08-04 09:00
Iqbal Surve (File: AFP)

Iqbal Surve (File: AFP)

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Terry Bell

That “other Mandela doctor” is at it again. Iqbal Survé surfaced last week, using the pages of his flagship Johannesburg newspaper The Star to accuse Naspers, owner of the 24.com stable, and BizNews (which does not belong to Naspers) of being local variants of the notorious Bell Pottinger propaganda machine.  

Specifically singled out was me as a journalist who, according to Survé, “was contracted by Naspers/Media24 to write negative stories about Independent Media and myself”.

This is a repeated attempt by Survé at destroying my reputation and standing within the community and, specifically within the journalistic profession. It is also interesting in that I have not written anything about Survé or Independent Media for the past year.

It was in July of last year that the most blatant and outrageous of these attacks was published in Independent Media’s major dailies. I was included in a group of fellow journalists who were attacked in a full-page and, at one level, ludicrous “investigation”.

Several of us have taken legal steps by suing for defamation and I personally welcome the opportunity for Survé, his editors and others responsible, to account publicly in court for their behaviour.  

This, I think, is more important than any financial recompense for the damage done to me, since the damage done to honest journalism – essential in any democratic society – is even greater.  

In any event, I am not, and have never been, available to be bought.

The full page “investigation” was a gross abuse of the media. It was published following a careful “fact check” I had conducted into Iqbal Survé. I did so because of the way he had behaved during and after the takeover of the Independent Newspaper group, a takeover I had initially supported.  

In various interviews with academics and often with journalists beholden to him, Survé has over the years projected an elaborate history, much of which appears, when examined, to be false. In evidence that I unearthed – and which was not denied – Iqbal Survé emerged as, at best, an elaborate fantasist.

He maintained last week: “Even when we presented Bell with the truth he remained selective and twisted facts in his reporting when he decided to ‘fact check’ my CV.” Yet all I asked was that he provide evidence for a number of his claims for which no evidence seemed to exist. Prime among these was that he was a personal friend and physician of former president Nelson Mandela.

To this query he responded, in writing: “Our relationship, both personal and professional, is not one I wish to flaunt publicly.” But he also claimed that he was writing an autobiography that “will cover extensively my relationship with Madiba on his release from Robben Island”.  

He added: “You will have to wait for the details in my biography (sic) since I have no wish for it to be scooped by anyone.” However, there is no record anywhere – including the list of medical people in Vejay Ramlakan’s now withdrawn book, Mandela’s Last Years – of Iqbal Survé.  

In email correspondence Survé also elaborated on his claim to be a “Fellow of the Prince of Wales’s Business and Sustainability Programme”, claiming he was “an inaugural Fellow”. But there is no such fellowship, let alone an inaugural one. 

And no evidence was forthcoming about such claims as being the recipient of an Amnesty International award as South Africa’s “struggle doctor”, about being the “mind coach” of Bafana Bafana or the “headhunted” mind coach for the Indian cricket team.

Having listed some of the glaring contradictions in what Survé refers to as his “CV”, I pointed out that since he controls the largest English language newspaper group in the country, “it should be beholden on him to provide clarification”. There were no “twisted facts” and what “truth” was provided turned out to be false.

But the recording of his often fantastic exploits and relationships with international icons has often been well timed and positioned to create favourable impressions with well-connected and often international audiences. May this year, at the time of the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Durban, provided a classic example. 

The South African franchise of the well-known American business magazine, Fast Company, produced at the time of the WEF, a glowing, full-colour spread stating that “Dr Iqbal Survé most certainly fits the same bill” as “Sir Richard Branson and Warren Buffet”.   

In the same breathless prose used in an earlier “profile” in Leadership magazine in July 2012, the article claimed: “[Survé] had a personal and/or professional relationship with many former prisoners such as Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada, Andrew Mlangeni and Govan Mbeki upon their release from the Island.”

However, the Leadership article also stated that “what most people do not know” was that Survé “was part of the team of doctors who cared for former Robben Island prisoners, including Mandela...”

The writer of both articles was Robbie Stammers who, in the month he resigned the editorship of Leadership published a gushingly glowing article headed: “A prosperous mind – Dr Iqbal Survé: from Struggle doctor to Midas-touch global leader.” 

On both occasions, Stammers met Survé in Claremont. In 2012 he noted: “I met Dr Survé in his plush but understated top-floor office in Claremont...” In May this year: “Our interview takes place in Survé’s plush executive ‘man cave’ of an office in Claremont.”

Stammers, who lists himself as publisher and editor at Insights Publishing and joint MD of RuggaBuggas Entertainment set up by Insights Publishing in August 2012. Two years later the company gained the rights to publish a South African edition of Fast Company.  

The magazine is still published by Insights, but the company is now part of ANA Publishing that, in turn, is part of Survé’s Sekunjalo stable. Nowhere in the Fast Company May article is the link with Survé mentioned, although Stammers lauds the “global news, text, picture and video content-syndication service and social media platform, the African News Agency (ANA)”. 

There is also no repetition of the extravagant claims that were debunked in my “fact check” and which, as a freelance journalist, I had offered first to Media24 to publish.  

The article also claims that Survé is now a “dollar-billionaire” and that ANA has “successfully placed 15% of its shares with [unnamed] global partners at a valuation of $1.6 billion (R21.4 billion)”. If this is true, Survé could qualify to be a member of the 1,000-strong “billionaire boys’ club” that runs the WEF.

He would also qualify – even at $1 billion (R13.2 billion) – to be the fifth wealthiest person in Rand terms according to the annual South African “rich list”. As such, he would be ahead of the likes of Atul Gupta, Johann Rupert and Koos Bekker of Naspers.

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