What now? Five unanswered questions from Iqbal Survé's PIC inquiry testimony

Iqbal Survé, chairperson of Independent Media and head of investment holding company Sekunjalo, testified for two days before the judicial commission of inquiry into the Public Investment Corporation this week.

The commission is investigating allegations of wrongdoing at the state-run asset manager, which manages R2.2trn in investments on behalf of public servants.

The commission had previously heard testimony about how three companies linked to Survé  - AYO Technology Solutions, Independent Media and Sagarmatha - sought billions in funding from the state-run asset manager. 

Survé used the opportunity to sing the praises of companies under the Sekunjalo umbrella, hit out at the white business community and rival media houses, and criticise those he views as his adversaries, including Deputy Finance Minister Mondli Gungubele.

But his testimony raised as many questions as it answered.

Here are five unanswered questions:

1. What will Magda Wierzycka say when she testifies?

The commission heard from evidence leader, Advocate Jannie Lubbe, that he may call Sygnia boss Madga Wierzycka to give evidence of how Survé boasted at a function they attended in 2016 of having a top PIC official in his pocket.

Survé denied the claim, saying Wierzycka was "delusional" and said she needed to go and see a psychologist.

Wierzycka, meanwhile, told Fin24 she was ready to testify.

2. Will Dan Matjila be as positive about Survé as Survé was about him?

The Independent Media boss tried to paint the former head of the PIC, Dan Matjila, in a positive light. Matjila stepped down from the PIC in November 2018.

"Dr Matjila is a very important person in this country," said Survé. "He is the CEO, or was the CEO, of the PIC, one of the largest asset managers on the African continent, someone that I have enormous respect for as a professor."

Survé denied he and Matjila had improper direct interactions ahead of the listing - or attempted listing - of two companies in the Sekunjalo group. But he did acknowledge the two traded emails about the valuation of Sagarmatha Technologies, which failed to list on the JSE in April 2018. 

The Sekunjalo boss said he corresponded with Matjila directly as the South African market does not understand how to value multi-sided companies, such as Sagarmatha, comparing it to Uber in the process.  

3. What will happen to Independent Media if it is not recapitalised?

Survé, the chairperson of Independent Media, testified the media group had not been making interest payments to PIC.

The PIC had invested R850m in the group company, which includes titles such as the Cape Times and The Star.

Independent Media now owes the state-run asset manager an outstanding balance of about R1.5bn, given the interest that has accrued on the initial investment. 

Survé said the media group was only surviving with its current staff levels because Sekunjalo was pumping money into it on a monthly basis, adding that without recapitalisation job cuts may result.

"I really can't do that [job cuts] right now. I mean I find it difficult to do that because it is job losses and people's families," he said. 

"Maybe, I am not tough enough to do that kind of thing – maybe my colleagues will have to look at it."

4. Will the deputy finance minister respond to Survé?

Deputy Minister of Finance Mondli Gungubele is not at the moment planning to respond to Survé's allegation that he vowed to "crush" the Independent Newspaper group for not "toeing the line".

Survé told the inquiry that he heard this from high-ranking ANC members at a breakfast meeting. He did not say what "toeing the line" meant. 

Gungubele – who has frequently been criticised by newspapers in the Independent Media group stable – has kept mum so far.

"Note that the deputy minister has already expressed that he won’t be responding to the Dr Surve’s allegations," National Treasury said in response to a request for comment. 

The ANC, meanwhile, has said it is waiting for the commission to end before commenting. The Government Employees Pension Fund, which has money invested in Independent Media via the PIC, has also said it would wait for the inquiry to end.

5. How is the PIC intending to recoup its investment in AYO?

Some of Survé's most heated testimony occurred when he spoke about the PIC's plans to recoup its R4.3bn investments in AYO Technology Solutions.

The Companies and Intellectual Property Commission earlier this year instructed the PIC to recoup its investment within 15 days.

"It’s disgraceful that a state regulator and [an] institution can be used in this way for either political or commercial objectives to undermine a legitimate business. That is not the rule of law. That is not what I as a committed South African and African expect in this country," said Survé. 

The PIC  went to court to try and get the order annulled, saying while it did want to recoup the funds, the time-frame given by the CIPC was too tight, and the original order contained inaccuracies.

The order was set aside, but the PIC says it still wants to recoup the funds.

"The PIC remains committed to carry out to conclusion the steps that it had already taken to recover the invested funds without any delay," the asset manager said in a statement after the order was annulled.

Survé, meanwhile, told the commission the R4.3bn investment was sound, and claimed the PIC was treating him with "disdain" by not answering his emails pleading for a meeting. 
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