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South Africa's Independent Media builds platforms for the future

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South Africa's Independent Media builds platforms for the future

This post is compiled on the basis of a presentation by Dr. Survé at the World News Media Congress 2016. He will also speak at a session about millenials at Digital Media Africa 2016, 28-30 September in Johannesburg.

Let's turn the clock back to 1996, a few years after the end of apartheid in South Africa. Mandela makes an impassioned plea for non-white professionals to enter the country's mainstream economy. He wants these people to use their education and influence to transform the social and economic landscape in order to redress the economic legacy of the brutal system.

Survé, widely known as the “Struggle Doctor” for providing medical treatment to apartheid victims, including Mandela, leaves the medical profession and founds the Sekunjalo Group with the aim of investing in and assisting black-owned businesses. (Sekunjalo goes on to become one of Africa’s most successful investment holding groups, with a portfolio of 176 investments in a wide variety of industries and a net asset value exceeding $3.5 billion.)

In 2013 Sekunjalo acquires Independent News & Media plc's South African operations, which has 18 major newspaper titles, more than six million daily print readers and three million online viewers. In February 2015 Independent launches the African News Agency (ANA), the first news and content syndication service by Africans for an African and global audience.

ANA’s success is unprecedented in African media in that just six months after its launch, it places a minority shareholding of 10 percent with international investors at a company valuation of $1 billion.

(Images are from Dr. Survé's presentation at the World News Media Congress.)

It then founds the African Independent, which Survé says is the first continent-wide print newspaper, distributed to 40 countries in Africa, in August 2015.

The future: 'video, mobile, social'

That brings us up to the present; what about the future?

“I think that if you look at the future in Africa, in particular in media, there's no question that the future is going to be video, it's mobile, and it's social,” Survé told the World News Media Congress in June in Cartagena, Colombia.

Independent Media South Africa was not exactly equipped to face that future when Sekunjalo acquired it, said Survé. “The first thing we realized is that if Africans are going to really be present for the future – their own future – they need to build their own technology platforms,” he said. “So we set about building a tech suite that could essentially do what I think a lot of people would love to do, which is to integrate African stories in an easy way using mobile.”

He called the notion that Africa lacks technical talent a “myth, because 90 percent-plus of our development teams – we have about 300 software developers in our group – are from Africa itself, and incredibly competent and efficient.” The technology they built has even attracted attention from Silicon Valley companies looking to acquire the media group, he said.

“So we became in fact a leader in mobile tech media globally and have won quite a few awards for that. And our developers from the beginning didn't even bother about other platforms."

"Mobile was the essence of what we did, and we built everything around mobile,” Survé said. “What I think people forget is that because Africa missed a couple of the progressive steps in telecoms, etc., it's been able to make the quantum leap in mobile and put itself at the forefront of mobile," he said.

Click on image to see larger version.

“We've also built our own cloud-based digital asset library. All of this is African, by the way – none of it is from San Francisco, USA, or anywhere else. The entire tech suite, the Baobab suite, the cloud-based digital asset library – all of this.…The second thing we needed to do was to see how a person in a village in Cameroon or Nigeria, or in the city, can integrate seamlessly with our platforms, so we realized that the future of media on the continent will be people's own stories, or, if you like, user-generated stories. So we built a platform to seamlessly integrate with that,” he continued.

“Africa is the youngest continent in the world. There's no other continent where there are so many young people under the age of 25. And it will by 2050 have 2 billion people and the largest number of young people in the world by far. So it's important, then, to connect the way young people are connecting.” The group has trained hundreds of mostly young people to be citizen journalists. (See related post for details of Independent's efforts to reach young readers.)

Independent Media also developed and built a large e-commerce platform. “People said to us, 'Well, Africans only pay by cash. It's not a credit economy on the continent.' But actually, we're amazed at how readily people have taken to e-commerce, and the demand for e-commerce. Of course there are logistical problems, but I think if you're building media companies on the African continent, you have to see e-commerce as being absolutely central to that. It cannot be separate from the media company,” said Survé.



Anton Jolkovski's picture

Anton Jolkovski


2016-08-19 14:16

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Welcome to coverage of Digital Media events.

The 71st World News Media Congress, the 26th World Editors Forum and the 3rd Women in News Summit took place from 1 - 3 June 2019 in Glasgow, Scotland.

In this blog, WAN-IFRA provides previews, interviews, summaries of the presentations and other useful information about the Congress.

Participants were also very active on Twitter throughout the event under the hashtag #wnmc19.

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