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Sunday Standard printing press: The white elephant in the room

TITUS MBUYA
Factory shell housing the Sunday Standard press in Pilane
What conjoins INK at the hip with the local weekly newspaper, the Sunday Standard, is the duo’s association with George Soros money. The New York-based Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF), which is owned by Soros, financed a second-hand printing press for the Sunday Standard in 2013.

As stated in the main story MDIF was involved in a scandal in Malaysia over funding that it provided to a local newspaper there with the CIA organization National Endowment for Democracy (NED). A senior editor at that newspaper resigned following disclosure of the source of funding.

The printing press that MDIF bought for the Sunday Standard, whose estimated value is about P27 million is housed in a factory shell in Pilane. The American-made machine, which weighs 100 tonnes and is 30 metres long, was purchased in the Netherlands from a company called Machinery Care which specializes in second-hand printing presses. The press, a four-high-tower Media King has been assembled and still awaiting commissioning.

The Sunday Standard approached MDIF with a begging bowl after their application for a loan was turned down by the Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA) on the grounds that the project was not bankable. Once the funds were raised, the project director, Prof Malema flew around the world looking for a suitable press for use by the Sunday Standard.

The printing equipment landed on our shores in 2013. Commenting on the anticipated performance of the press during an interview that year, Malema said , “We will be producing a United Kingdom-like quality newspaper”! The press was supposed to be commissioned in October 2013. A year down the line, in another interview, Malema said due to construction delays, the machine was not operational yet. He expressed confidence that the project would be completed soon. He said the Media King printing machine “is the only one of its kind in Africa”, adding that locally available printing technology is far less evolved compared to their just acquired printing press.

Because of the difficulties that the project has had to contend with, in local media circles the Sunday Standard press project in Pilane is known as “Morupule B”, following the disastrous power station in Palapye which cost the nation billions. The press has never worked since installation. It is a white elephant! The owners of Sunday Standard have brought in engineers from all over the world, at high cost, to get the press to print, but all was in vain.

The Project Manager whom they had engaged for the press project, a South African by the name of Anthony Dew, has since left the country because his permit could not be renewed. According to a

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printing press expert familiar with the project the “Sunday Standard was duped into acquiring a dodo from the Netherlands that will never fly”, He says not only is the equipment obsolete but it has essentially ceased, and hence it may never print again.

Making a connection between the printing press and the sedition charges against Outsa Mokone, the Sunday Standard Editor in 2014, that paper’s correspondent, Bashi Letsididi wrote: “The United States has expressed very strong disapproval about both the detention and prosecution of Mokone and it is likely that if the Pilane printing machine had been used to print the edition that the state deems seditious, the stand-off between the two countries would be even more intense. The Pilane project is being sponsored by the Media Development Investment Fund in the United States.”

The Media Development Investment Fund is also an investor in the Mail & Guardian in South Africa. MDIF’s involvement in the Mail & Guardian caused a public spat, which played out in the media, between that paper’s owners and Iqbal Surve, the owner of Independent Media, which publishes The Star in South Africa. Surve threatened to expose the Mail & Guardian which he said “might be controlled by the CIA”. In response MDIF released a statement which partly reads: “Rumours fuelled by the recent comments of a rival publisher that a US investor in Mail & Guardian has ties to the CIA are totally absurd”.

The statement further said, “Media Development Investment Fund is the only US investor in Mail & Guardian, holding 10% equity share. MDIF, in addition to Mail & Guardian, we are a minority investor alongside Trevor Ncube in Alpha Media Holdings in Zimbabwe”. MDIF owns 39% in Alpha Media, which publishes four newspapers in Zimbabwe.

The statement was prompted by what Surve had said to a Mail & Guardian journalist regarding that paper’s funding. “Go and ask Mail & Guardian owner Trevor Ncube, if he is funded in Washington, if the entity that funds him is linked to the CIA”, he said.

Surve claimed to have “high level” and “factual” information to substantiate the allegation. Said Surve, “I want to give it (the story) to Independent journalists to also publish it. If you don’t publish it, somebody’s going to publish it. I can assure you that, because you started it.”

Ncube also denied the allegations.

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