Jacob Zuma had executive influence over both editorial and
operational aspects of the now-defunct ANN7 news outlet, according to testimony
by former editor Rajesh Sundaram.
Sundaram’s shocking testimony before the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture on Monday gave further credence to the wide-held belief that ANN7 was nothing more than a tool for political propaganda.
According to Sundaram, former president Zuma was effectively the puppet master behind the scenes, guiding the media house towards a particular narrative which focused on exonerating those implicated in State Capture.
Jacob Zuma and ANN7: Codenames and executive control
African News Network 7, which crumbled into obscurity under the revised banner of Afro Worldview, was first founded by the infamous Gupta family in 2013. Prior to the station’s collapse in 2017, two majority stakeholders held the power; Oakbay Investments, run by the Gupta family and Mabengela Investments, owned by the former president’s son, Duduzane Zuma.
While the conflict of interest was abundantly clear and openly criticised, ANN7 denied that it was implemented to serve a particular political agenda. Sundaram’s testimony, however, has thrown that defence out of the window.
Appearing before Deputy Chief Justice, Judge Raymond Zondo, Sundaram detailed how he was brought into the country, under suspicious and illegal immigration practices, to set-up and run ANN7. According to the former editor, Home Affairs processes were flouted in order to ease the naturalisation process – an allegation that forms the basis for another inquiry.
The most damning allegation, however, is that Jacob Zuma –
while not being officially ‘invested’ in ANN7 – held more media influence than
his son. While Duduzane and Atul Gupta were listed on the board of directors,
it was, allegedly, the former president who pulled the strings.
Codename Number 9
According to Sundaram, senior management meetings nearly always involved Jacob Zuma, even if via proxy. Zuma’s influence on management matters was so frequent and intense, that those in senior positions assigned him a codename; “Number 9”. Sundaram explained:
“If we’re discussing before others we should not mention the president by name. That’s what Atul Gupta said. He said we should refer to him as ‘Number 9’”
Sundaram says that Zuma was afforded that codename in
relation to his days as an Umkhonto we Sizwe operative. According to Atul
Gupta, Zuma was known as ‘Number 9’ during his days in the intelligence
The former editor explained that the then-president played an integral role in setting up the station, saying:
“Duduzane’s involvement in the setting up of the station and the running of the business was minimal… but president Zuma was very much involved in the running of the station.
There were regular review meetings where he would give feedback.”
Early signs of dishonesty
Sundaram added that the former president was provided with “confidential
information” which related to the station and its projects. The former editor
explained his initial concerns, saying:
“I thought it was a little funny that you would hand out a document which had all the secrets of the project to a public office and leave a presentation there with all those details. They [the Guptas] didn’t seem to care.”
The former editor noted that Zuma’s influence was especially focused on matters concerning the employment of presenters and journalists. According to Sundaram, Zuma would ‘hand pick’ potential hires. This was endorsed by the board which wanted to “keep the president happy”.
Sundaram added that his involvement in ANN7 was regrettable, labelling the station as a “propaganda machine” which was run by “mafias”. Sundaram reflected:
“This was the most depressing time of my life.”