Has Max Du Preez’s hubris blinded him to Naspers links to human rights abuses?

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Why has Max du Preez not criticised Naspers for its links with human rights abuses?

If you want to understand how deeply compromised some South African media platforms are, check out this comment thread (in Afrkaans) starring Max du Preez of Vrye Weekblad. For those not of the Afrikaans persuasion, here follows an English summary.

Du Preez gets taken to task for not once criticising media/tech giant Naspers for its role in facilitating human rights abuses in China – a continuation of its sordid history in defence of apartheid and a potentially corrupt apartheid-era deal for a monopoly pay-tv licence (M-Net). M-Net was the cash cow that gave current Naspers chairman and previous CEO, Koos Bekker, the funds to play investment roulette with, which resulted in Naspers becoming the largest shareholder in Tencent, the second-largest Chinese company by market cap.

It’s common knowledge that Chinese tech/media companies like Tencent help the Chinese Communist Party with the surveillance and censoring of Chinese citizens. This has almost definitely led to the persecution, torture and disappearance of dissidents, not least, one million Uighurs in Xinjiang detention camps.

Since Bekker and another Naspers executive sit on the board of Tencent, they bear direct responsibility for collusion with the repressive CCP regime. Not rocket science.

So why single out Du Preez for his silence on Naspers? Well, he has an extensive personal history with the company: 6 years as a journalist until 1982 and a number of years post 1994 as a columnist. He has also had considerable exposure on Naspers subsidiary, DStv. It is fair to say that Du Preez has derived significant financial benefit from his relationship with Naspers.

This makes his ongoing hubris and hypocrisy on social media and his pet soapbox, Vrye Weekblad, so egregious. According to Du Preez’s many self-congratulatory missives he has a blemish-free record of holding the powers that be to account – whether on the right or the left of the spectrum. He loves to rant about corrupt ANC politicians and often mentions his his break with and loathing of Iqbal Surve’s Independent group. And this is where it gets interesting.

For a self-proclaimed political analyst it is quite bizarre and inconsistent to attack one SA media group with problematic government ties, but remain shtum about the far larger SA media group with clear links to ongoing human rights abuses. A political analyst that ignores the biggest media player in the SA political economy in his commentaries? At face value, it does not make sense.

A cynical observer may well deduce that Du Preez is also a regular public speaker at corporate events, which may have made him gun-shy of critising the hands that feed him. It’s no secret that the South African business world (especially the Afrikaner-dominated segment) is very incestuous at the top – piss off one group of executives and you may well piss them all off. So, a scared Du Preez may simply have lost his balls and is now just focused on gathering as many acorns as possible for his retirement.

Which is fine, but then he must shut his pie-hole about how he has consistently held powerful figures and organisations to the same accountability standards. He only besmirches his journalistic career when he deliberately obfuscates on why he has never held Naspers to account for its post 1994 links with repressive regimes. Trying to deflect valid criticism with false equivalences (‘must I also investigate pig farming and big pharma?’) or strawmen (recognising Naspers links with human rights abuses does not require deep financial analysis) is puerile and dishonest.

But beyond Du Preez’s hypocrisy lies the intransigence of a large cohort of white South Africans. They often see themselves as highly educated; when in reality they mostly have modest (often narrow, technocratic) educational backgrounds. South Africa’s vast inequalities have created the illusion among this group that they are superior to other South Africans by virtue of their apartheid-privileged education. If ever there was a case study for the Dunning-Kruger effect.

It would be naive to assume that right-wing racists simply disappeared post 1994 when white South Africans lost their political power. Remember that in the 1992 referendum almost a third of white voters wanted to continue with apartheid. Post 1994, the main focus of many right-wing whites has become economic power. This new generation of greedy bigots reinvented themselves as pseudo-libertarians – vociferous about individual and property rights as long as it is to their benefit (free movement of people is always a big no-no for these hypocrites).

Whether their companies destroy the environment, mistreat workers, abuse consumers or become complicit in foreign human rights abuses, is of no concern, as long as executive pay rises and shareholder value increases. Which explains the mindless hyena-like attacks on anyone who dares to criticise white-run companies like Naspers. It’s not only Naspers though; go check how many white South Africans are in charge of mining companies accused of atrocities around the world. Glencore subsidiary, Prodeco’s coal-mining activities in Colombia is a good starting point.

There’s some irony in the fact that a bunch of apartheid apologists sprang to Du Preez’s defence in the comment section. As always with this crowd, conspiracy theories and ad hominem insults abound. Instead of engaging critically with the criticism leveled at Du Preez, they resurrect the ghost of Bell-Pottinger’s noxious white monopoly capital campaign. It seems to have become the go-to flag for white supremacists to camouflage their bigotry and ignorance.

It is important to realise that this intransigence and misplaced superiority complex is causing dangerous polarisation in South Africa. No wonder many black South Africans are suspicious when white-owned media platforms relentlessly pursue corrupt black politicians, while apartheid economic criminals are honoured as visionary billionaire businessmen. “Justice must be seen to be done” is crucial to create a culture of civic morality. The media in general, and opinion leaders such as Max du Preez specifically, have an important role to play in that regard.

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