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Last Updated: Monday, 5 November 2007, 16:08 GMT
Mbeki allies seek critical paper
President Thabo Mbeki
President Mbeki may seek another term as ANC leader next month
Close allies of President Thabo Mbeki have bid for an influential South African media group which includes a newspaper critical of the government.

His personal adviser and a foreign ministry official are in a consortium offering R7bn (1bn, 500m) to buy Johncom, which owns the Sunday Times.

South Africa's best selling weekly newspaper exposed the health minister's theft conviction and alcohol problems.

But the government says they broke the law by using stolen health records.

Chief foreign ministry spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa dismissed talk that this row was the reason for the takeover move.

He said suggestions that President Mbeki or the government were behind this deal was "ludicrous and laughable".

"This is a purely private initiative funded commercially," he told Sapa news agency.

Credulity stretched

However, the consortium, Koni, are reported to be seeking funding from the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), which is wholly owned by the government.

An opposition spokesman said government denials stretched credulity.

Zackie Achmat (left) of the TAC with Dr Tshabalala-Msimang
The health minister (right) has regularly clashed with Aids activists

"We are dealing with newspapers that have been a constant thorn in the flesh of the government," the Democratic Alliance's Dene Smuts told AFP news agency.

On Monday, the front page of the free daily version of The Sunday Times read: "Keep your hands off our newspapers!".

Mr Mamoepa, Mr Mbeki's political adviser, Titus Mafolo, and the former chief of state protocol, Billy Modise, are all involved in the bid by Koni.

Anton Harber, a media professor at Johannesburg's Wits University, told the Independent that it was unlikely the Koni bid would have gone ahead without Mr Mbeki's knowledge.

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