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South Africa, Naspers and the Facebook connection

Emerging market internet media giant Naspers has announced that it will acquire a 28.7% stake in Digital Sky Technologies (DST), the Russian internet company that has invested in Facebook, social network game creator Zynga and owns the mature instant messaging service, ICQ.

Naspers said it will be investing $388-million via its international investment arm MIH, and contribute its 39.3% stake of Mail.ru, Russia’s biggest email and communications provider, to DST.

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Naspers is a US$15-billion South African media company focused on internet investments in emerging markets. Apart from various internet investments in Asia, Eastern Europe, India and South America, the company owns newspaper and magazine properties in South Africa and Brazil, including pay TV networks throughout the African continent.

Memeburn has it on good authority that the company once flirted with buying a stake in successful US business network, Linked.in, but at the time turned the opportunity down — a decision that caused some regret at the company. Now Naspers effectively has an investment in the world’s most successful social network, Facebook, via the DST investment.

The DST stake in Facebook is conservatively estimated to be around the 5%-10% mark, acquired from various sources, including buying up former Facebook employee shares.

Given Naspers’ historical print background, its interest in multinational internet businesses in recent decades marks a remarkable turnaround for a company that once focused only on newspaper and magazine properties in South Africa. Naspers in fact stands for “Die Nasionale Pers”, which is Afrikaans for “The National Press”.

China’s instant messenging phenomenon Tencent, of which Naspers owns 35%, also made a strategic investment in DST recently. Along with Mail.ru, DST also controls VKontakte, Russia’s biggest social networking site. A few months ago DST bought ICQ, the instant messaging service, from AOL.

A large part of Naspers’ sizable market capitalisation and the driving force behind its recent investments comes from its stake in Chinese giant Tencent, now rated the world’s third largest internet company by market cap.

Antonie Roux, head of Naspers’ international operations, told the Financial Times earlier today: “We know DST quite well having been co-investors in Mail.ru with them for nearly four years. We wanted to align all our interests.”

More coverage on US technology blog Techcrunch.

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