The ANC has moved to firm up plans for a new daily paper at a cost of R250 million – with the purchase of the Sowetan as an alternative, according to a report in The Times.

S'thembiso Msomi writes in The Times:

EXCLUSIVE: The Times can reveal the ANC’s detailed plans to set up its own daily newspaper or buy our sister newspaper — the Sowetan.

Documents in this newspaper’s possession show that the party intends to get financing for its newspaper project — expected to cost about R250-million — and have the publication on the streets before next year’s elections.

The documents were sent to members of the communications sub-committee of the ANC’s powerful national executive committee by party spokeswoman Jessie Duarte ahead of a meeting of the sub-committee scheduled for later today.

Duarte refused to comment yesterday and threatened to take legal action against The Times for being in possession of “confidential documents” belonging to the ANC.

She had earlier said the documents were part of a presentation that former journalist Ranjeni Munusamy and ex-SABC man David Niddrie wanted to present to the NEC this weekend.

“But it won’t happen because the chairperson of our sub-committee is out of the country,” Duarte said.

The sub-committee is chaired by Arts and Culture Minister Pallo Jordan.

But Duarte’s denial that the document was to be discussed by the sub-committee flies in the face of the covering letter Duarte sent with the documents to sub-committee members.

She wrote that the meeting was to discuss the newspaper-acquisition proposal and “the current status” of the SABC board.

And she wrote that she had spoken to Jordan, who gave the go-ahead for the sub- committee to meet in his absence.

Among the attached documents is an e-mail sent by Niddrie to Munusamy.

In the e-mail, Niddrie reveals that a foreign investor “is in a position to inject” up to R75-million in the project, and that this prospective investor could “take an equity position” before or during September.

“Any delay in launching the project will mean the prospectus will not be ready by September and the potential investor will have found somewhere else to put its money, losing the project yet another opportunity to be realised,” Niddrie warned.

He stressed the need for the national executive committee to approve the plan at its meeting this weekend, and for the party and union federation Cosatu to fork out R500,000 to finance the development phase of the project.

“Lead time to launch is approximately eight months [and] any delay will mean the project won’t be in place before the 2009 election and the alliance will be contesting the election with an even more hostile media than it has in the past,” he wrote.

But it is the second attachment — a presentation given to the ANC and its alliance partners, presumably by Munusamy and Niddrie — that outlines the fascinating details of the ANC’s plans.

In the presentation, it is argued that an “alternative voice” that “would cover the elections from the perspective” of resolutions taken at the ANC national conference in December was needed.

Though arguing that there is a market for a new daily newspaper that would target “the 80 percent-plus” of South Africans who do not read daily newspapers, the presentation says the alternative would be to buy the Sowetan .

It argues that this would be made possible because the Mvelaphanda group, which is owned by NEC member Tokyo Sexwale, controls 30 percent of Avusa — Sowetan’s parent company.

“Avusa may be prepared to dispose of a majority stake in all of Sowetan,” reads the presentation. It also suggest a “tactical partnership with Mvela to transform” Sowetan.

The “disadvantages” of this option, it states, are that the ANC would not have full control — and it notes the “Sowetan’s track record”.

On the positive side, the presentation continues, would be that acquiring the Sowetan would obviate “advertiser resistance” — and lower the costs and financial risks to the ANC.

This option would be considered if the Sowetan’s asking price and “transformation costs” were lower than the R250-million estimated cost of starting a daily.

Avusa’s chief executive officer, Prakash Desai, yesterday refused to comment on the ANC’s plans, saying that he doesn’t “comment on speculation”.

Click here to read the full report, posted on The Times's website.