Mail & Guardian owner Trevor Ncube has sold his stake to a consortium consisting of CEO Hoosain Karjieker, staff and its funders, the Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF).
Ncube will return to Zimbabwe to take the helm of his company, Alpha Media Holdings, which publishes four leading print and online titles.
"I have always believed that the M&G should remain a pillar of the South African democracy, and it should exist well beyond any single individual or shareholder," said Ncube on Tuesday.
"Regrettably -- much as I would have loved to -- I am no longer in a position to invest in the M&G."
Karjieker has been M&G Media's CEO for six years but has been a linchpin of the company for 16 years. The popular CEO will now take a "substantial but minority stake" in the company, with staff retaining a stake. The majority share ownership still resides with MDIF, the New York-based nonprofit that funds independent media around the world.
This will make M&G Media a hybrid profit-nonprofit model and give it the breathing space to be recapitalised and future-proofed. Like most media companies, the 32-year-old title swims in choppy seas as print revenues go into terminal decline and digital revenues cannot yet pick up the slack.
"The M&G, for me, has been a space of great triumph, but also of great challenge. The tumult of the global media industry has certainly delivered great lessons to me as a manager of an independent news publisher in the developing world.
"The last three years have been immensely difficult. We were forced to retrench staff, while struggling to develop viable business models that support quality journalism.
"It is the M&G that must always be defended -- its right to tell the story of our times, on its own terms. These are exciting times for the M&G," said Karjieker.
The company will now embark on a plan to stabilise the company's finances to protect its journalism, Karjieker told staff.
Ncube bought the Mail & Guardian in 2002 and, with Karjieker, turned its losses to profits, with the buy-in of the MIDF. It bought back the online arm from Naspers at too high a premium, said Ncube.
This and the establishment of the online site M&G Africa put tremendous pressure on the balance sheet.
"I take full responsibility for the mistakes we 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," said Ncube.
Ncube is a highly regarded media leader who has held global positions on the World Association of Newspapers, among other structures. "I am glad that the end of my stewardship of the M&G coincides with changing fortunes in my beloved homeland of Zimbabwe."
The Mail & Guardian is a leading and award-winning South African title edited by Khadija Patel who was this week named as one of Africa's leading talents by the New African magazine.