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Independent News Plans $226 Million South Africa Disposal

(Updates with Surve’s comments in third paragraph.)

By Janice Kew

Feb. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Independent News & Media Plc, Ireland’s biggest newspaper publisher, agreed to sell its South African operations to a group of companies led by Iqbal Surve in a shift of the division to black ownership.

The 2 billion-rand ($226 million) sale to Sekunjalo Independent Media Consortium will require approval from INM’s shareholders and South Africa’s Competition Commission, the Dublin-based company said in a statement today. The business, which includes the Star, Pretoria News, Cape Times and Cape Argus publications, is South Africa’s largest English-language newspaper group.

“We are in the final stages of this deal,” Surve, chairman of Sekunjalo Group, said in an interview today. “It will be good to bring this asset back to South Africa.” Sekunjalo made an unsolicited bid for the South African unit in late August. The deal has South African and foreign funders, he said, without identifying them.

Surve sees print media in South Africa growing as new community titles are added and as more people become literate. He plans to invest in newspapers across Africa, with a greater focus on digital, he said. There are no “immediate plans” to change management, which has “performed well under difficult circumstances.”

INM rose as much as 16 percent, the biggest intraday jump since Jan.2. The stock was up 3.1 percent at 3.3 euro cents as of 3:22 p.m. in Dublin. Sekunjalo rose 10 percent to 55 South African cents in Johannesburg.

Competition Commission approval may take three to six months, Surve said. Sekunjalo Group is based in Cape Town and has assets in telecommunications, health care and fisheries.

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