PRESIDENT Thabo Mbeki yesterday defended Koni Media Holdings’ planned
bid for Johncom’s media assets amid widespread criticism that
government insiders with links to the Presidency were trying to silence
a critic of Mbeki’s administration, writes Chantelle Benjamin in Business Day.

Mbeki said there was nothing wrong with public servants owning shares in a public company.

Critics have pointed out the close links some of Koni’s shareholders have to Mbeki — in particular Titus Mafolo, an adviser to Mbeki, foreign affairs department spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa, and former chief of state protocol, Billy Modise.

Speaking in George after a meeting of his International Investment Council, Mbeki took a swipe at those who were speculating that the bid was a thinly veiled attempt by the government to gain control of the media company, and the Sunday Times in particular, telling them to check their facts.

“Why do we create these scarecrows? Suddenly big headlines about something that doesn’t exist — it is unreal. It is not real, it doesn’t exist, it is not anywhere, but we persist in creating these scarecrows. ”

He said Mafolo, Mamoepa and Modise owned just 1% of the company, and it was not illegal for public servants to own shares in public companies. He said those that did were bound to report on assets they owned.

Koni Media Holdings is said to have offered R7bn for 100% of Johncom.

“I have seen the figures that have been mentioned about taking over Johncom. I can guarantee you that those three do not have one millionth, one millionth of those billions, they do not have that money,” Mbeki said.

Click here t o read the full report, posted on Business Day's website.