‘Paper Tiger’ lacks teeth as only details editors’ bitterness and anguish

By Unathi Kondile

Five years after the death of Nelson Mandela, the Cape Times did exactly what Alide Dasnois had done the night he died.

They produced a wraparound to celebrate the life and times of Madiba. Except this time, according to Dasnois, no one got fired. That, in a nutshell, sums up the book, Paper Tiger.

Its point of departure is that of an aggrieved senior former employee still trying to reconcile with the reality that she is not indispensable.

Paper Tiger begins by outlining how Dasnois lost her job, in her own words, and is co-written by Chris Whitfield, who once headed Independent’s editors. You can feel the entitlement gleaming through this book’s pages as it tries to position the authors as the victims or prey, in this instance, of the Paper Tiger they identify as “Mr” Iqbal Survé.

If you were in the employ of Independent Media during the time in which Dr Survé took over the reins from the Irish, this will be a pretty dull read for you. Nothing new for you, rather buy Mark Manson’s – Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.

Most of the chapters in Paper Tiger are redundantly unnecessary and repetitive. The book could have simply been called “How I lost my job!”, by Alide and Chris. And reduce pagination to 50.

In it you can see the authors trying their utmost to paint those aligned to Survé as psychopaths and those against as valiant prey.


There is also the alarming attempt to paint Survé as gaudy loon with a very sketchy background and unbelievable international connections.

For example, how Survé alludes to having being in contact with the late Michael Jackson in the past is presented in a manner in which you are left with the impression that Survé harbours delusions of grandeur.

Throughout the book there is also mild mockery of the Survé-Mandela relationship, but because they lack concrete evidence to back up their disbelief, it arises as sheer derision.


Let me declare, slap bang in the middle of this review, that I have worked with Survé and established a Xhosa publication with his assistance. Perhaps my sight might be tainted by my positive-only experiences.

As much as this book tries to fault “Doc”, it fails dismally. It fails on so many counts to be explosive. It simply skirts over very important matters, and you can tell that it is informed by a select few who were willing to speak.

An interesting story, which is cut short in the book, is that of Anthony O’Reilly. It is cut short, perhaps, because the authors’ intentions were never to taint the white image. Theirs was to reiterate black incompetence.

Yet the demise of Independent Newspapers was initiated by O’Reilly.The poor management structures still in existence are a hangover from the O’Reilly era.

One wonders how Survé even entertained the thought of keeping senior executives who had aided the stripping of the very same company he bought.

The book speaks near fondly about these remaining executives from O’Reilly times. It does not dare expose their incompetence but rather shows them as sane Survé neo-acolytes.

The authors were there when the decline of Independent began under the O’Reillys yet have the gall to pen a book that dismisses someone who has tried to revive it and save jobs in the very same company. How and why? Had the O’Reillys not sold, there would be no Independent Newspapers.

Not 1500 jobs thereafter. The book does not go there. Intentionally so.

Instead, it goes to former editors and staffers who left Independent during Survé’s inductory years.

The only chapter that managed to grab my attention and that could have been expanded upon is that of Gasant Abarder’s first day as editor of the Cape Times following the departure of Dasnois. Now that chapter has dialogue in which staff pose difficult questions to Abarder on editorial interference and how he would handle a call from Survé. Abarder is quick to say he reports to the general manager and group editor, not the chairperson.

The book also fails to prove editorial interference from Survé, because in all honesty it actually does not exist.

What exists are in-house announcements about Survé achieving this award, meeting the president, enjoying jazz, offices being raided and so on. That the editor decides to pick this up and run it on the front page is never suggested nor made implicit.

Disappointingly, this book actually does not give that much insight into Survé. You will still not know who Survé is after reading this.

You will, however, feel the authors’ bitterness and anguish.

If you have never worked for Independent Newspapers you will not have the context to make sense of the book. You will, however, see Dasnois’ tears on each page. Sad.

* Kondile is former editor at Independent Newspapers… for now, taking a break.

The article was first published in


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