Before SIze Became an Issue

Before Size Became an Issue

SHORTLY after the election in 1994, South Africa joined the Commonwealth and in return for various guarantees, most notably the Sunset Clauses negotiated by SACP leader Joe Slovo that protected white interests, the wholesale discounting of various elements of the old regime began. Most notably the privatisation of state assets such as Telkom (Telephone), Transnet (Transport), Iscor (Steel), Sasol (Petrol) and more recently the pending sale of Eskom (Electricity).

The preditory capitalism unleashed by the forces of transformation had created a strange new ball game that would reshape the economic landscape, effecting consumers for decades to come. In the brief months preceding the epochal 1994 elections, and in a climate of uncertainty before size became an issue, Tony O’Reilly’s Independent Group seized control of the Argus Group, formerly owned by the South African Associated Newspapers, “a radical transformation had begun in the newspaper industry,” records Gerald Shaw in his informal history of the Cape Times.

In March 1994, after buying titles like the Argus, Weekend Argus and Star, the group went on to poach the jewel in Times Media’s crown, the Cape Times: “Before the deal could go through, [Independent] had to satisfy the Competition Board that the continued existence of the Cape Times and the continued editorial independence of both the Cape Times and [renamed] Cape Argus were not in jeapardy, and that the need of all sections of the community served by these newspapers to have a ‘meaningful voice’ in the running of them would be respected.”

Shaw observed wryly that “as far as the Competition Board saw it, a monopoly system already existed among English language newspapers at the Cape, and a change of control of the Cape Times and Argus from [Anglo-JCI] to Independent Newspapers would not alter the situation in the city.” In other words, whatever the deal, Anglo-American interests still appeared to be be served.

Next: Big is well, Bigger…log onto The Size Issue to find comments on the Independent Group and South Africa’s Supersized Media:

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