Media entrepreneur Trevor Ncube has relinquished majority shares in South Africa’s Mail & Guardian.
In a statement posted on Twitter on 12 December 2017, Mr Ncube said he was “no longer in position to invest in the M&G”.
He acquired shares in 2002 and oversaw the growth of M&G circulation numbers, the development of its online platform, and the publication of ground-breaking stories, among other accomplishments.
“When I took over the M&G, its circulation was around 38,000 copies per week. The readership of the M&G was to peak at an all-time record of over 58,000 copies a week,” he said.
He added: “Looking back on the decade and a half that I was at the helm of the M&G, I can say without a doubt that this august newspaper broke many of the stories that at the time seemed against the spirit of the rainbow nation. But as we now know with the State Capture series of stories, the M&G was brave enough to report on the stories that should have warned all of us not to assume that a pretty constitution was enough of a safeguard against greed and corruption.”
Mr Ncube also listed challenges during his tenure, ranging from a drop in circulation and dwindling print advertising revenue from 2009, as the world went more digital. The company’s action of embarking on a digital strategy, which he says could have been “too ambitious”, “resulted in further losses to our bottom line”.
He added: “I take full responsibility for the mistakes we have made. And I know too that we were not alone in making these mistakes. Around the world, media organisations everywhere are searching for the perfect solution for a commercially viable digital media publication.”
Following Mr Ncube’s exit, New York-based Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF) has acquired majority stakes in the company while M&G’s Chief Executive Officer, Hoosain Karjieker gets minority stake, according to Mail & Guardian.
The MDIF CEO, Mr Harlan Mandel, said the Fund “knows the company [M&G] intimately”, having worked for it for more than a decade.
“We have invested in M&G because it is a uniquely important media organisation with a great future. Its independent reporting has a profound impact on the national debate and it is a beacon for independent journalism across the continent, and indeed the world. We are committed to building on this legacy and re-establishing M&G as a commercially and journalistically dynamic institution at this important time in South African politics.”
According to information on the M&G website, the MDIF is a New York-based not-for-profit investment fund for independent media in countries where independent media are under threat. It has more than 20 years’ experience of helping build quality, news and information companies – print, digital and broadcast – in emerging markets.
Mr Ncube said MDIF has a “compelling plan that will ensure the survival of M&G well into the future”. He also added that MDIF will be exiting from the Alpha Media Holdings — his media interests in Zimbabwe.
He said it is his belief that M&G should remain the pillar of the South African democracy, and exist well beyond any single individual or shareholder.
“Ownership of the M&G is equivalent to carrying a baton that gets passed on from generation to generation with just this underlying principle: Editorial independence is sacrosanct. I have often said my role over the past 15 years has been more of a custodian of a great South African asset, than an owner.”
Mr Ncube delivered the inaugural lecture at ACME’s Annual Lecture Series on Media and Politics in Africa in 2014, during which he said the print media industry is under siege from many fronts including technology, changing consumption habits and a generational shift.