A NEW global multimedia megacorporation is determining the future of communications on Planet Earth. From cradle to grave, chances are your life is already affected and controlled by Channel Life.
If you attend Damelin College or City Varsity, buy tickets via Computicket or access broadband with MWeb, your life has been inextricably altered by Channel Life.
Whether you surf Facebook, play with Mixit (until recently 100% owned by Naspers) , read ZigZag or Saltwater Girl or any one of 60 magazine titles, or watch the plethora of Multichoice Television programmes on DSTV via a vast array of platforms owned ultimately by insurance giant Sanlam you may knowingly or unknowingly be a part of the Channel Life experience.
If Channel Life did not exist, then someone would have had a good cause to create the term to express the way humanity is increasingly becoming interconnected through communications technology. Problem though, Channel Life does exist and it describes a lot more than a shareholder stake in a complex holding structure behind today’s networked mega-corporation.
The Historical Problem: The Rise of Apartheid Media
It was not always this way. South Africa until fairly recently was a rather insular and isolated country. As a British Colony and Union prior to Independence, its press was predominately Liberal and English and except for one or two newspapers from the Transvaal, local publishing was for the most part unexceptional.
On May 12, 1915 a small company by the name of Naspers was incorporated under the laws of the then Union of South Africa as a public limited liability company. Naspers, short for Nationale Pers or National Press, reflected the dominant concerns behind Afrikaner Nationalism which had endured defeat during the Anglo-Boer war, a war which is now known as the South African War.
Along with the rise of the Apartheid state, Naspers rapidly became associated with political factions agitating for independence from Britain, and a Republic divided along strict racial lines where segregation into distinct race groups would be enforced by laws rather than mere societal norms and where the reigns of power would be in the hands of a secret society which acted independently of the ruling party.
In 1914 the republican militarist, J.B.M. Hertzog had formed the National Party. The following year Naspers was formed by Hertzog along with a daily newspaper, De Burger, later known as Die Burger. A vainglorious and zealous theologian by the name of D F Malan was persuaded to become editor. Malan accepted the post only after relinquishing his position as a minister in the conservative Dutch Reformed Church.
A Cape branch of Hertzog’s National Party had been formed the same year and Malan, leveraging his position as editor and with the backing of the Afrikaans media was not surprisingly, elected as its provincial leader. Despite the objections of a small minority within the Afrikaner establishment who believed “the dominee” unfit to lead, Malan was elected to Parliament three years later in 1918, the same year a secret society known as the Afrikaner Broederbond, was formed, ostensibly to protect Afrikaner interests.
Thus with the full support of the corporation, and the Broederbond, the National Party was catapulted into power in 1924, for a brief moment under the leadership of Hertzog, where Malan, still editor, and the Silvio Berlusconi of his day, was given the post of Minister of the Interior, Education and Public Health, a position which he held until 1933.
In the South Africa of the 1930s white consensus politics prevailed, the United Party was thus formed out of the merger between Hertzog’s National Party and the rival South African Party of Jan Smuts. According to historians Malan strongly opposed the merger however, and he and 19 other MPs defected to form the Gesuiwerde Nationale Party or ‘Purified National Party”, which Malan led for the next fourteen years as part of the all-white opposition.
Malan was not surprisingly vehemently opposed to South Africa’s participation in World War II, and openly sympathised with Nazism and Hitler’s brownshirts. Since the allies and the British were immensely unpopular amongst the Afrikaner, it stood to reason that much would be gained from beating the drum of fascism and Afrikaner nationalism.
This directly led to a split in the ruling party and dramatically increased Malan’s popularity amongst disgruntled whites with the result that he was able to defeat Smuts and the United Party in the election of 1948 in what must surely rate as one of the worst moments in South African history.
Without the racist machinations of D. F. Malan who wished to remove those known, as “coloureds” (in the peculiar parlance of South Africa’s race system) from the voters roll while relegating “black” South Africans to the status of foreigners, and bolstered by the enthusiastic support of the Naspers corporation, the foundation stone for apartheid would never have been laid.
More likely, as with so many British colonies and protectorates that achieved democratic independence after World War Two, African nationalism would have simply taken its natural course. The white minority would have been forced to accept the “Winds of Change” which were blowing over the continent.
Instead what occurred was a travesty of justice as a country which had committed soldiers in the cause of freedom, now committed itself to actively enslaving its own countrymen.
The outcome of D F Malan’s Naspers-backed tinkering with the political system resulted in what we now know as a crime against humanity – the institutionalisation of racial segregation in the form of apartheid, along with job reservation for whites, which under the regime of Malan and subsequent National Party leaders was given the full force of law.
Although parallels existed in the experience of segregation in the USA – the Southern States had literally fought a civil war to defend slavery and class privilege and lost — the civil rights movement on the continent had consigned segregation on the basis of race and skin-colour to the rubbish heap. Instead while Martin Luther King was giving his famous “I have a dream” speech, and America was turning its back on segregation, South Africa was embracing a system of grand apartheid which denied blacks full citizenship and consigned objectors to what were known as bantustans, under the evil doctoring of another broederbonder with media ties by the name of Hendrik Verwoerd.
A Dutch immigrant, Verwoerd was a graduate in psychology from the Universities of Hamburg, Berlin and Leipzig where he had absorbed the racist theories of eugenics which underlined the apartheid science of the day and which now informed his masterplan for the subjugation of those deemed to be of an “inferior” race. In 1927 Verwoerd was given the post of Professor of Applied Psychology at the University of Stellebosch before becoming the editor of Die Transvaler, a title later purchased by Naspers.
Clearly, this is not the history channel of champions that we see at Multichoice today. The online historical record of Naspers conveyed by its powerful corporate presence on the web is rather a marvel of reinvention. Corporate heroes such as Koos Bekker, Hein Brand and Ton Vosloo are now the stuff of the capitalist rainbow nation whose pot of gold is touted by the ruling ANC as the saviour of the people. How is such an oversight and whitewash of the history of apartheid and the civil rights movement possible?
Remarkable though it may seem, the entire period prior to PW Botha’s tricameral parliament has been redacted on Naspers’ branded Media24 website into a few cursory sentences, which appear to give the authenticity and authorship of history , but instead relegate the role of the corporation and its active participation in the system of apartheid to a quaint footnote. The role of Malan, his successor Piet Cillie and business partner Hendrik Verwoerd have been quietly forgotten.
If one takes the trouble to discover the truth behind the Naspers empire, its holding company Sanlam, the many front companies set up along the way, amidst the decay of memory and the passage of time, a different story emerges. A story of greed, prejudice, hatred and racial oppression.
A corporation which massively benefited from the apartheid system and which in many respects was inseparable from the National Party and the race-based system created by D F Malan and those who succeeded him, and which even to this day, refuses to acknowledge any responsibility for wrong-doing.
Naspers for example, did not participate in the media hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and failed to submit anything more than a copy of Oor Grense Heen, the “official” history of Naspers.
Unlike several other South Africa media companies, which participated in these hearings, Naspers refused to support the commission and instead chose to go it alone, essentially believing in its own ability to convince others of the moral rectitude of its position and in the power of a rebranding exercise. Naspers’ media division is now known as Media24 and is tasked with providing a façade of reconciliation which speaks to an emerging black comprador class which can be divided and ruled so that white privilege may be secured via proxy.
Naspers, as we will find out, has absolutely nothing to do with actual media. Rather it is in turn, a front company for a complex investment scheme, effectively known as Channel Life and a secret society called the Broederbond (not the Afrikanerbond) which has links to other secret societies like the Bilderbergers and Freemasons around the world.
Popular politicians such as Vallie Moosa and party apparatchiks like Maria Ramos (wife of Trevor Manual) hold stakes in the holding company which rules behind the scenes via secrecy, propaganda and deception, intelligent double-speak in which two completely separate messages compete for our attention.
On the one hand we are told to believe in the moral virtues of truth and reconciliation without the company coming clean about apartheid or telling the truth, on the other, the historical record created by the National Party and the Broederbond is allowed to go unchallenged while reconciliation (read limited Black Economic Empowerment) is turned into a multitude of increasingly complex local share-schemes and dilution of share capital. The new media conglomerate routinely shifts investment back and forth, from South Africa and abroad, with interest in its core business in the New World Order carefully masked by local share schemes.
Naspers is now duel-listed on the JSE and the London Stock Exchange. In essence two holding companies, with two balance sheets. The supposed “secondary” London listing is the result of the primary consolidation of several listings made via NAFTA deals representing the “American Deposit Receipt” ownership in the “shares of a non-U.S. company that trades in U.S. financial markets”.
A glossy annual report paints a glowing picture of a media company, which appears to have transformed from a pariah into a modern media conglomerate – a global corporation with assets in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America – the 2006 report for example refers to a “chain of integrity” in which apartheid cronies sit alongside struggle heroes like Jakes Gerwel, appointed to the board in 1998 as part of its rebranding exercise.
Naspers is in all reality the tactical media wing of the reformed Broederbond, a secret society which still functions as an exclusive club for South Africa’s rulers. A circular published by the society reads: ‘The Afrikanerdom shall reach its ultimate destiny of domination in South Africa . . . Brothers, our solution for South Africa’s troubles is not that this or that party shall gain the upper hand, but that the Afrikaner Broederbond shall rule South Africa.”
Many people who find themselves employed by the company, may not realize the terrible truth. Media24 managers may appear to have forgotten about the prominent apartheid figures which once graced the lavish corporate headquarters on Cape Town’s foreshore, despite global condemnation of their deeds, their portraits remain.
We must therefore tell the honest truth, another separate and parallel story of the modern rise to power of Channel Life, a company which exists on paper alone and which is the key to understanding the manner in which Sanlam, Naspers and in turn Media24 has become a front for power struggles around the globe.
The Information Scandal
FOLLOWING Watergate and the Vietnam war, South Africa would be rocked by its very own media debacle of the 1970s. The Information Scandal as it was known, involving National Party interference in the English press and a dirty tricks campaign which had been waged against both the anti-apartheid movement and governments abroad which dared to interfere in the policy of apartheid. Huge amounts of money were shifted under the government of B J Vorster and his genuflecting Minister of Information, Connie Mulder in a propaganda war which saw the attempted purchase of the Washington Star.
In 1973 Vorster agreed to Mulder’s plan to shift about 64 million rand from the defense budget to undertake a series of propaganda projects. Plans included bribes of international news agencies and the purchase of a Washington newspaper. Needless to say, it is the Naspers corporation which ultimately benefited from its close association with the National Party.
With the advent of electronic media in the 1980s and firmly in the pockets of the apartheid government, Naspers expanded its economic activities to incorporate pay-television and later Internet platforms. Drawing upon the huge concessions awarded it by the Nationalist regime via a sophisticated and often reckless system of government tenders, kickbacks and outright cronyism, what would become known as the Naspers Group, then variously MIH Naspers, Multichoice and then Channel Life, effectively bootstrapped itself upon the success of the National Party and its dealings with the new regime which would follow.
In 1985, at the height of government censorship and the all out propaganda effort which had resulted from the Cold War and numerous “states of emergency” imposed by the securocrat PW Botha, Naspers and several South African media companies, seemingly unaffected by political unrest and interference from the apartheid Bureau for State Security (BOSS), formed an electronic pay-media business, M-Net. M-Net was listed on the JSE Securities exchange South Africa five years later in 1990.
During the reign of nationalist leader PW Botha (the 9th Prime Minister of the first Republic of South Africa) whose paranoid security cabinet had fomented a silent putsch by the military under General Magnus Malan, installing itself as the final arbiter over the apartheid state, and amidst a general clampdown on civil rights in particular free speech, which built upon the earlier police-states of JB Vorster and Hendrik Verwoerd, Naspers prospered.
The State of Emergency was a time in which blacks were denied the vote except in the “bantustans” while so-called “coloured” and “Indian” were given separate rule at home in a practice known as separate development, Naspers began an aggressive expansion resulting in the acquisition of a 50% stake in Jane Raphealy and Associates, a well-known publisher of various women’s magazines targeted at the white market.
South Africa’s media was by no means entirely complicit. Despite enormous pressure from the state , the danger of government spies, embedded journalists and constant harassment from security police, an alternative press had come into being largely as a result of opposition by the anti-apartheid movement. The parallel history of those who wrote and worked at titles such as South, Grassroots, New Nation, Weekly Mail and Vrye Weekblad is related in a number of historical narratives such as Les Switzer and Mohammed Adhikari “South Africa’s Resistance Press”.
Most fail to note the obvious dilemma of anybody writing such a history, by at once denying the inevitability of change, and papering over the problem resulting from a complex historical period in which many journalists who allied themselves with the anti-apartheid movement were prevented from working for mainstream media whose titles reflected the policies of the government of the day, either because of the colour of their skin, or their political or ideological opposition to the system known as apartheid.
It is safe therefore to make the following observation. Those who worked for Naspers, even the lowest clerk or secretary must have done so because they supported the company in its aims and objectives. Those who did not, invariably found themselves cast out of the fold and forced to make a living either working and writing for the alternative press or not working at all.
In October 1993 a few months prior to the democratic elections M-Net, the South Africa’s sole pay-channel was divided into two companies. The subscriber management, signal distribution and cellular telephone businesses, together with a holding in FilmNet (a pay-television operator in Europe) were placed into a new company called MultiChoice Limited (later named MIH Holdings Limited) — M-NET, South Africa’s first pay channel had became simply one of many Multichoice channels.
Whether because Naspers feared the new black majority government would nationalise assets, or due to simple financial prudence, the strategy proved effective. Henceforth Afrikaner media interests would be borne forth via a complex arrangement whereby European corporates vouchsafed the existence of an asset base in South Africa, whose saving grace was the New World Order.
A similar, though less complex scheme can be seen during the same period amongst the English press. In order to protect Anglo-American interests, the Argus Group was sold off initially in a piecemeal manner and then lock stock and barrel to the Irish-based Independent Group, which immediately assumed control over the liberal stake in the press under the pretext of British and Irish expansion. It should be remembered that the ANC was predominately a political wing of an armed liberation struggle which had not been shy to use force in achieving its goals.
Thus under the guise of Irish and British interests and the so-called Irish Problem, the Anglo-American stake could be preserved by appearing to make overtures to supporters of Shin Fein. Likewise, Afrikaners would be assured of protection from donor states such as France and Germany which had casually supported the National government in its war against communism.
In 1995, Naspers corporate history records the luxury goods company Richemont S.A. and MultiChoice Limited merging their global pay-television operations, which included interest in FilmNet, MultiChoice’s operations in Africa, and Richemont’s interest in Telepiu, into a single venture called NetHold B.V., which MultiChoice held through its subsidiary, MIH Limited. The birth of Multichoice and its holding company MIH would take an enormous degree of time and effort to explain and deserves its own chapter in the annals of history. The result though, was that South Africa ended up with a digital satellite monopoly and a telecommunications sector which was anything but competitive when it came to delivery of broadband and cable.
As far as the new electronic media was concerned, there were a number of pretenders to the crown in the early days of Internet commerce. Aztec Information, an early startup was acquired by iAfrica which in turn was acquired by a new entity by the name of MWeb. Within the space of months, Naspers had gobbled up its competition, many of whom were in no position to resist hostile takeovers and bids which undercut value by denying access to valuable infrastructure still controlled by the government, and which papered over the terrible fact – the only cable telecoms ostensibly in private hands were also stuck in various government portfolios which in turn were attached to various deals made by the ANC with the National Party.
Thus in 1997, MIH Limited created a national Internet service provider and named it MWeb Holdings. In March 1998, MWeb Holdings was quietly spun off as a listed entity on the JSE but subsequently delisted with Naspers holding 100% of the economic interest in the company. The game of corporate rugby in which two teams owned and controlled by different parts of the same company played on a field manufactured before a live audience that is itself owned and controlled by the corporation, had begun.
The New Rigged Media
In the Manufacture of Consent, media critic Noam Chomsky notes the manner in which media debates can be rigged so that opposition becomes a mere construct of the person doing the arguing. In other words, it helps to have an opponent who agrees with you, but not so much so that the illusion of debate falls apart. Is open debate possible in a networked world in which everybody is contracted to everybody else?
Following the events of September 11 2001, the very idea of the public sphere has been called into account by documentaries such as Zeitgeist and Fahrenheit 911 both of which question the complicity of media in the creation of a reality that is manufactured to such a degree that the only true reality is artifice. In today’s interconnected world of all pervasive media, we no longer know what is true, let alone the truth, or do we?
In Network, a 1976 Hollywood satire, about a fictional television network the Union Broadcasting System (UBS) and its struggle with poor ratings, a crazy journalist threatens to kill himself on air, but instead is lulled by the increase in ratings to stay, so much so, that the Network eventually conspires to actually kill him, if only also to increase the ratings.
The tragicomic character Beale played by actor Peter Finch ends up with his own show, in scenes which ultimately produce some of the best commentary on media manipulation in our age, and which have been reproduced endlessly by modern-day media-critics through the unlikely medium of Youtube. Beale discovering that the conglomerate that owns UBS will be bought out by an even larger conglomerate, launches into an on-screen tirade against the two corporations, encouraging the audience to telegram the Whitehouse with the message, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more,” in the hopes of stopping the merger.
Naspers spate of mergers and acquisitions which followed the rebranding of the core print division in 2000 to create Media24 may well have resulted in a number of Beales, it is difficult to comprehend the extent to which press freedom and the right-to-know has been sacrificed on the alter of profit. However, once a media corporation becomes sufficiently large, larger than an average-sized country, it is hard to imagine a world outside of the corporation.
Essentially what happens, and this is true of so many media corporates which have grown from humble beginnings into modern behemoths, the media created by the corporation begins to have a doubling-up effect. So on any given day, a Media24 employee might start the day reading a Media24 newspaper, after which he or she turns on a Multichoice channel, flips through another 50 channels all conveyed on an MIH system, turns to a computer to post an email using MWeb, then orders a book via Kalahari.Net (a Naspers subsidiary) published by Kwela, owned by Nasboek, its book division.
He or she will probably needs some money to buy the book. No problem, Naspers has thought of everything. Not only does Channel Life now provide a convenient vehicle for the purchase of insurance (along with your DSTV subscription) as it turns out, Naspers, because of its constant need to merge, has become a division of Sanlam, a financial group whose Afrikaner origins dovetail the history of Naspers.
THE salient facts after the events of the millennium and Y2K is not the Naspers Group’s expansion into China, Europe, Africa and Brazil but rather the group’s transformation at home, from a media group which produces media, into a hedge fund which produces profit.
The much-vaunted dematerialisation of assets and “unlocking of share value” brought about by what was initially thought to be an attempted hostile takeover during 2006, brought new visions of things to come.
Up until this time, the structure of the core business, at least in terms of share ownership, pretty much resembled the original company with the addition of MIH Multichoice. The business was media. Granted, there had been a number of token appointments, such as Jakes Gerwel to the board but the directorship and ownership reflected the domination of an all-white, all-male boardroom, whose predominant concern was with diversifying from print media into electronic media and beyond.
In essence Naspers on paper is a holding company for a variety of media subsidiaries, each one on its own right a going concern. This is the picture which Naspers through its corporate media wishes to preserve. Unfortunately, Naspers, the company no longer exists in the way that we can conceive of it as a single entity. Instead, what exists is a carefully interwoven series of cross-ownerships and networked relationships which conspire to give the appearance of an empire.
Pay no attention to the man behind the television screen, this is the modern tale of the Wizard of OZ.
To understand the Channel Life experience and the experience of so many who have come to know South Africa’s media one must first delve into the events which lead up to the Naspers dematerialisation and flirtation with capital markets around the world.
Two entrepreneurs by the names of Chris Otto and Jannie Mouton had created a moderately successful global finance company called PSG which had staged a takeover of the control structure of Naspers.
The resulting deal was sold as a means of “unlocking share-capital”. Driving a wedge into the controlling Keerem Street share-structure which had remained historical in nature, the deal would eventually allow Sanlam to become the dominant share-holder in Naspers as the new networked corporation of the future came into being, its name — Channel Life.
According to Cape Business News: “The next bold move by PSG was to attack the out-dated control structures at media conglomerate Naspers. Essentially PSG made a rather generous offer for the Naspers A-shares held by Keeromstraat and for the A-shares themselves. The unlisted Naspers A-shares effectively control the media group, although no real economic value was attached to the shares.”
This is the part that is not shown on the Naspers organogram. Channel Life is the other side of the pyramid.
Channel Life’s history goes back to the late sixties, when it was established as Anchor Life. The company was acquired by the PSG Group in January 1997.
In the year 2000, PSG Anchor Life activities were combined under the Channel Life banner. In January 2006, Sanlam became a majority shareholder and in 2009 the entire company, including its stake in Naspers was folded into the Sanlam Group. How was such a financial coup possible? Easy, the history of Sanlam is intertwined with that of Naspers — Willie Hofmeyr, Fred Dormehl, and Pieter Malan, the three founders of Sanlam, were also present at the formation of the Naspers Company in 1915 — it would appear ownership and control of the media and finance sector by one dominant company has been part of the game plan of the Broederbond all along.
A student enrolled at a City Varsity journalism course may be forgiven for thinking that a shadowy corporation called Channel Life now sets the media curriculum at the campus, as well as the price of household insurance. Sanlam is a massive player in the South African housing market. The recent Metropolitan and Momentum merger for example, has meant Channel Life cross-ownership effects other media groups, for example Kagiso media, operator of local radio stations such as Heart 104.9 shares territory and holdings with Sanlam – the Sanlam stake in Metropolitan and the new entity called MMI is estimated in the billions.
The result is somewhat frightening — leading investigative magazine Noseweek published several articles in 2007 critical of Naspers division Educor. In “Degree of Deception” and “Diploma Circus” the magazine questioned “Dodgy practices, plagiarism and cover-ups with the help of political influence”, and whether journalism degrees from Naspers Educor amount to anything more than brainwashing.
Looking east, the Channel Life deal had enormous benefits as Sanlam capital was deployed in a host of acquisitions and technology mergers like the purchase of a stake in Digital Sky that ultimately lead to the acquisition of a slice of Facebook. The networked corporation of the future was not simply content – information is the basis of people’s lives in many respects — but life itself. Social interactions, relationships, even casual friendship, all would be aggregated and sold as part of the new emerging commerce of the Internet. The value of the deal measured in billions of dollars means Naspers i.e. Channel Life is currently one of the most influential media corporations on the planet, alongside Rupert Murdoch’s News corporation, and Clear Channel Independent.
Could the grand dictator Hendrik Verwoerd have ever contemplated that his family’s share in Perskor would end up turning into a stake in Facebook? (Naspers own a 50% stake in Perskor alongside Caxton). As I write this the Press Council is holding a series of hearings, the latest on the 26th floor of the Naspers Building on Cape Town’s foreshore. They wish to know how the Press Ombudsman may be improved. The only answer one can imagine, is to disband. Stop pretending to be journalists. Admit the truth, the idea of an independent media is a fraud when independence comes at the price of journalistic integrity, when the compromise is power, and the truth is — the banks and the insurance industry control South Africa’s media.
UPDATE: ‘Predator’ complaint against Media24