NEWS
29/06/2018 12:45 SAST | Updated 29/06/2018 12:58 SAST

The New Age/Afro Voice Journos 'Hurt, But Not Shocked'

Afro Voice, Mzwanele Manyi's attempt to resurrect Gupta-tarnished The New Age, has shut down. HuffPost spoke to several journalists who have worked there.

BusinessTech

South Africans woke up to the news that the newspaper previously owned by the infamous Gupta family has been shut down. Staff members at Afro Voice, previously known as The New Age, were told in a meeting not to come to work in July, because the paper is closing down.

A former journalist for the newspaper, Kgaugelo Masweneng, told HuffPost that she was not surprised by the news, but sympathises with her former colleagues who are now unemployed.

"I was not shocked — they have been struggling for a while, and with the obvious decline of newspapers as a medium, one expects such drastic changes," she said on Friday morning. "But honestly, I am hurt. It was the first media house that gave me a job — I was part of their cadet group in 2016, where I met some of the most beautiful people. People whom I have become good friends with — them losing jobs under such circumstances is painful."

Although she "hated working at the place", she knows that some regarded Afro Voice as their second home and pushed through the "attacks, uncertainty and politics".

"Sadly, the closure of an alternative voice is a threat to our so-called democracy. It says a lot about where we are as a country," she added.

What media call the 'the ghost of the Guptas past' has clearly hindered the paper's ability to survive.

Owner Mzwanele Manyi purchased both Afro Worldview (ANN7) and Afro Voice (The New Age) from the Guptas, supposedly in a "vendor-financed" deal 10 months ago, prompting widespread allegations of corruption.

Manyi's attempts to rebrand these tarnished media platforms were futile, however — Afro Worldview is expected to also shut its doors by August.

TNA cadet graduate Canny Maphanga, who now works for HuffPost, says the rebranding of the newspaper did not make a difference on people's perceptions of the brand.

"Through my time there the paper employed young journalists and gave them a platform, but unfortunately rebranding was not enough — what media call the 'the ghost of the Guptas past' has clearly hindered the paper's ability to survive," she said.

She also sympathises with journalists, who in some instances are family breadwinners.

"We live in tough economic times, and worse, a shrinking media space. I cannot imagine what they must be going through right now. I wish all the best to the affected media colleagues," she added.

Another former TNA journalist, Qaanitah Hunter, says the newspaper was not "lucrative" and was founded from the "state-capture pyramid".

In an article she wrote for Daily Maverick she explains the "symbiotic relationship" between the company and the government.

"Gupta media entities were leveraged for and through other deals with provincial governments and state-owned entities. The Guptas eventually used it as a vehicle to wield power more than to make money," she wrote.

She calls the manner in which Mzwanele Manyi shut down the newspaper "callous and brutal".

"Manyi's decision to shut down Afro Voice will have devastating and lasting effects on its employees' lives. One is tempted to call Manyi's media transformation rhetoric a farce — it seemed rather like a get-rich-quick plan gone wrong, at the cost of the jobs of hard-working journalists," she said in the article.

Former editor at ANN7 Cecelia Russell speculated that the closure of the newspaper was because of poor figures.

"The reason that they had to close was because they were unable to get advertising. Mr Manyi relaunched the paper, and I suspect that the circulation dropped — but I do not have any proof of that. The TNA, even before he acquired it, was not as I understand it profit-making — however, this is all speculation," Russell said.