Vrye Weekblad Saved by The Bell.
SA-born Angel Investor Steps in to Save Famous Progressive Afrikaans Publication, the Vrye Weekblad.
By Georgina Crouth (Daily Maverick, South Africa)
Almost 30 years after it was forced into bankruptcy when apartheid-era deputy police commissioner Lothar Neethling sued it over its reporting on the poisoning of ANC activists, Vrye Weekblad’s voice was again under threat, with the abrupt announcement by publisher Arena Holdings on 1 September that it had become financially unviable.
But, weeks before it was due to close for good, an angel investor stepped in to save the progressive Afrikaans publication.
Earlier this month, Vrye Weekblad (or VWB) bounced back under the independent control of veteran journalists and co-founders Max du Preez and Anneliese Burgress, with former head of News24’s investigations Andrew Trench as chief operating officer. Du Preez continues as editor-in-chief, with Burgess as co-editor.
In an announcement on Monday, 26 September, headlined “Here comes VryeWeekblad 3.0 #Willnotdie”, Du Preez revealed VWB’s “rebirth”, with the weekly being published by a new entity, Nuwe Vrye Weekblad Mediagroep, with ambitious plans.
He explained the publishing agreement with Arena, in place since April 2019 via Tiso Blackstar, had been cancelled, and the final edition was on Friday 30 September.
The new company is being funded by a consortium of South African business leaders who live in the US and the UK, led by Gqbergha-born billionaire Andre Pienaar.
Pienaar is the founder of C5, a specialist venture capital firm with interests in cyber-security, space and nuclear energy.
Du Preez told DM168 that, when he accounted Arena’s closure of VWB, the billionaire – an avid reader since the early print newspaper days – reached out to him.
“He contacted me a while ago, telling me VWB had a profound impact on his political views and view of life. He had left South Africa after completing law studies at the UPE (now Nelson Mandela University) and studies in Wales.”