Afrotone Media Holdings chair Mzwanele Manyi was misquoted in a previous version of this article. This article has been updated with the correct quote.
Afrotone Media Holdings chair Mzwanele Manyi told attendants at the Daily Maverick Gathering in Cape Town on Wednesday that his company was not relying on government business as its main source of revenue.
However, he said the Afro Worldview television news network was still thriving and had a healthy number of viewers in South Africa. The Gathering was organised by Daily Maverick and 10X Investment and was held under the theme “The Media”.
Manyi took over the media empire from the Gupta family when it was still The New Age newspaper and ANN7. It was done through a vendor financing arrangement. The newspaper and television news network were re-branded as Afrotone and Afro Worldview respectively.
The newspaper published its last issue in late June. Manyi has battled to shake the image - deserved or not - that the Guptas' former media organisations had free reign over state advertising business or even preferential treatment.
Questioned by seasoned journalist and editor Ferial Haffajee, who facilitated the discussion, Manyi said it was unfair and incorrect to suggest that his business was generating its revenue solely from advertising from government departments and entities.
“On Saturday I watched a Blacks Only (stand-up comedy) Show and today I am in Cape Town. We do not apologise for government business. We are not the only ones. Sunday Times and City Press would close down if they lost government business,” Manyi said.
He claims that a number of media outlets were invested in a narrative which sought to "vilify and de-legitimise black owned businesses", which was doubly challenging for him as he was a business leader in a media sector which he considered largely untransformed.
“This is a ploy to ensure that government is ashamed to support black business and they shouldn’t be. If you want black business to be part of servicing the state, why does one business get scrutinised and others do not,” Manyi asked.
Asked whether Afro Worldview would get the MultiChoice contract for a black-owned company to bring a news network to its platform, he expressed confidence that Afro Worldview completely fits the bill of what the satellite television provider was looking for.
Haffajee asked how the Afro Worldview channel’s viewership numbers fared since he took on the business. Manyi said the news network was doing better than most at drawing viewers to its screens.
“As we speak right now, Afro Worldview does not get much from government, we get most of our revenue from the private sector. It’s almost 90% at this point that comes from the private sector. I can’t say the same about the Sunday Times,” he claimed.
Manyi derided what he called the “coded” language which critics tried to use to exclude black-owned businesses like his own.
“If big business decides what people get to watch, why is that so? Big business is not helping the truth come out. We want to find out what is happening in marginalised communities, but businesses sit in their hotel rooms and make decisions that affect them,” he said.
He mused jokingly – or perhaps not – about the "character assassination" he had been subjected to by the linking of his name to that of the Guptas.
“If you want to kill anything in this country give it a Gupta name, even fresh milk. You put fresh milk here and you say Gupta it turns sour.”
*Correction: This article was corrected at 11:05 on Thursday August 16 after Manyi was incorrectly quoted. The quote at the bottom of the article which in a previous version of this article stated "if you mention Afrotone Media Holdings near a fresh bottle of milk, it would immediately go bad” was incorrect. It has been replaced with the correct quote, which is “If you want to kill anything in this country give it a Gupta name, even fresh milk. You put fresh milk here and you say Gupta it turns sour.”