Apartheid Inc, the story of Naspers, Media24 and Channel Life

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.