CAPE TOWN: South African democracy activists, already nervous at perceived threats to press freedom, are edgier than ever following a R7bn ($1.1bn, €735m, £511m) bid by Koni Media Holdings for Johncom.

The target is the country's second largest media group whose stable includes a number of censorious newspaper thorns in the government's side.

In a current online poll organized by local ad and marketing site, 82% of more than 1,100 voters declared their fear that media freedom in the Rainbow Nation is under threat.

That fear is heightened by news that the bidding company's shareholders include government foreign affairs spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa and former head of state protocol Titus Mafolo, now political advisor to South African president Thabo Mbeki.

When questioned by the Financial Times, which co-publishes two titles with Johncom, Mamoepa insisted that the bid was a private commercial venture with no political undertones.

While a spokesman for President Mbeki claimed that the head of state "did not know and did not have to know" of his adviser's implication in the bid.

The Johannesburg Sunday Times, a Johncom-owned title and the nation's most successful broadsheet, has in recent months published a series of exposés causing much chagrin within the governing ANC.

However, some local observers question the seriousness of the Koni offer for Johncom, currently the target of a bidding free-for-all.

They suggest that the Sunday Times enticed Koni into showing its hand before it had acquired the necessary financial backing.

That theory is denied by Koni ceo Groovin Nchabeleng, who insists that a firm offer has been slapped on Johncom's boardroom table.

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff