South Africa’s Iqbal Survé is the chair of the Belt and Road Africa Fund, but no one knows what it is

By Xolisa Phillip, in Johannesburg

Posted on Monday, 15 July 2019 19:58
South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa wants closer ties with China's President Xi Jinping. Tomohiro Ohsumi/Pool via REUTERS

South African businessman and media owner Iqbal Survé has emerged at the chair-elect of the $1bn Belt and Road Africa Fund. But there is little known about this Belt and Road Africa Fund, save for a story published on a Survé-owned media platform.

Survé recently completed a stint as the chair of the South African chapter of the BRICS Business Council, which was dissolved in October 2018. A newly constituted council was announced in March 2019.

The businessman came to national prominence in South Africa in 2013, when he concluded the purchase of the Independent Media Group (IMG), which comprises national and regional dailies such as The Star and Cape Times; weeklies including the Sunday Independent; as well as community print titles. By the measures of reach and circulation, the IMG is among the country’s top four media houses. However, Survé’s presence in the titles he owns – in terms of coverage – looms large. This has drawn criticism about editorial interference.

His companies have also made local headlines for the wrong reasons.

PIC probe

The IMG deal and others subsequent to it, have been the subjects of stinging witness testimony at the inquiry into the affairs of the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), one of the largest asset managers in Africa. The judge leading the inquiry is expected to submit a final report on 31 July. The PIC helped finance the IMG transaction and others in following years, with one being the subject of court action instituted by the asset manager.

Survé’s appointment to the BRICS Business Council raised some eyebrows in the South African business fraternity. However, no one was willing to speak on this issue on the record. The latest development regarding the Belt and Road Africa Fund has caused confusion because no one seems to know anything about it, beyond what was published by the IMG.

Puzzling development

Details, including whether the fund is driven by the Chinese government or China’s private sector, are sketchy. There is no formal announcement pertaining to the fund on the Chinese embassy’s website.

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was initiated by China’s President Xi Jinping to push for infrastructure-driven investment spanning across Africa, Asia and Europe. It is unclear if the Belt and Road Africa Fund is linked to the BRI and how, if at all, it will benefit South Africa.

One of the fund’s listed areas of focus is said to be infrastructure. The South African government is engaged in its own efforts to use an infrastructure drive to revive its economy. Between 2018 and 2019, the topic was mentioned in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s stimulus plan, finance minister Tito Mboweni’s mini-budget speech and Ramaphosa’s states of the nation addresses in February and June 2019.

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