South Africa, Sport, World

The Fiks is in: Drop the bribery talk, insists the sports minister

The Fiks is in: Drop the bribery talk, insists the sports minister

Are we getting tired of writing these sorts of headlines? Nope. By RICHARD POPLAK.

I was recently asked by an earnest young journalist whether I was ever tempted to fictionalize my reporting. The question startled me, and not because I’m congenitally honest. Rather, I was wondering what I could possibly invent that could compete with the scribbled runes in my notebook. In South Africa, fiction chases fact like a panting lapdog, and keels over somewhere south of Potchefstroom from dehydration and exhaustion. Our fictions are bone-dry and stripped down, flayed of incident and adornment. Our factual writing, however, is baroque, over-produced, noisy.

In other words, you just can’t make this shit up.

For instance: “A bribe is like a ghost, it’s untouchable, you’ll never find it.” These words were uttered on Wednesday by sports minister Fikile Mbalula at a press conference called in order to further obfuscate the latest batch of FIFA controversies. Now that even incumbent president Sepp Blatter has stepped down in disgrace, it seemed like it was time to address South Africa’s alleged involvement in FIFA’s endless buckets of sleaze, most notably the purchasing of the 2010 World Cup Finals.

Mbalula’s exegesis on bribery was, I think, a reference to the impossibility of tracking down the $10 million that South Africa—AKA the South African World Cup 2010—handed over to FIFA under the auspices of what Mbalula has identified as the “Diaspora Legacy Progamme”. “[Creating it] was the decision of the South African government and Safa. The main actor in the play? [Former SAFA CEO] Molefi Oliphant.” The programme was run for the benefit of infamous FIFA scumbag/ingrate Jack Warner, and it was meant as some sort of diasporic uniting of Africans everywhere under the banner of brazen embezzlement and outright thievery. Did any actual, live “Africans” request such an initiative? No one knows, because, according to Mbaks, the media forgot to ask.

The Diaspora Legacy programme is, according to Fiks, like a ghost, it’s untouchable, you’ll never find it.

Mbalula was in fine form at the press conference, as he has been over the course of this unfolding scandal. Like Skelator from the old He-Man cartoons, he seems to literally increase in strength and size as the world around him unravels. The dude seems to be having a blast, Tweeting away in his own improvised vernacular—a version of triplespeak has no precedent even in the ANC—while he doesn’t protect his office so much as spin it around his head and fling it back at anyone who has the temerity to doubt his spin. Like almost everyone in the ruling party, Mbalula’s job is to make things up so that fiction writers don’t have to—he is a storyteller, a weaver of elaborate fictions, a Borgesian creator whose maze is so dense and complicated that all who enter it eventually give up and die.

“The South African government and the LOC did not pay a bribe,” Fiks told us. “We call on FBI to furnish us with the indictment. We ask all to not comment on the matter.”

Which is another way of demanding mute, sheepish obeisance from the South African media, the same sort of obeisance that opened the black hole in which the Diaspora Legacy Progamme was created. If we don’t ask any questions, and if we withhold from commenting, then the fictions the ANC promulgates will become fact.

Until America choreographs a drone strike-come-Sylvester Stallone-led takedown of Safa headquarters, there is nothing to be done. “We await details from the US Authorities,” added Fiks. “We have a duty to defend the legacy of the World Cup and our country’s reputation.”

But what this whole debacle has made clear is that the 2010 World Cup left no legacy—it was a hyper-corporate mega-carnival perpetrated by the world’s most sophisticated and wide-ranging organized criminal network, apparently aided and abetted by the South African authorities.

As for South Africa’s reputation, outside of the minister’s Borgesian maze South Africa has no reputation—or, rather, the reputation we do have is that we’re the sort of country that would aid and abet a hyper-corporate mega-carnival perpetrated by the world’s most sophisticated and wide-ranging organized criminal network. The 2010 World Cup is exactly the sort of World Cup this iteration of South Africa would host, because it was secured under exactly the sort of behaviour that has always been endemic on these shores.

But here’s the thing: we know with near certainty, when we combine newly unsealed US Department of Justice indictment with a letter sent to FIFA by then SAFA CEO Molefi Olifant in March 2008, that the South African football authorities a sum of $10 million to Jack Warner directly, and that the cash was effectively laundered by FIFA in exchange for votes that were cast four years earlier. In order to address the fix, Fiks simply needed to assure the South African public that something would be done about this enormous transgression. Ten million ‘Murican doneros is serious money at the bottom of Africa, and the fact that it secured half a dozen brand new stadiums filled with Budweiser and Coke and Adidas bunting seems like an intricate, avant-garde globalisation jape concocted by Thomas Freidman on an acid trip.

And what of Danny Jordaan, the new mayor sent in to clean up the rampant corruption that has undone Nelson Mandela Bay? Did the former SAFA poobah hand over the cash? Jordaan hasn’t said a word, and Fiks doesn’t want us to ask those questions, because to do so would be unpatriotic. The sports minister wants us to take off our caps and roar in appreciative laughter, while he is left to run through one of his performance art installation/press conferences uninterrupted by calls for the truth. “The fact that later [FIFA] turned gangsters, that is not our problem,” said Fiks. “We were not sniffer dogs to check everybody’s legitimacy.”

Then, all of a sudden, Mbalula went Christopher Nolan in Interstellar. “”We fought colonialism and imperialism and we are still fighting it. We believe in multilateralism and not unilateralism. [The Americans] can wake us up anytime, we will be ready. I’m ready to explain to them how this money was done and why it was done in the manner it was done. We will not be collateral damage in the battles in the geopolitical space.”

Make stuff up? Make what up? How miserably would my bullshit compare with the official bullshit? What home does fiction even have in South Africa? We don’t need to tell stories, because we are stories. Just take the 2010 World Cup Finals. It happened, I was there, I heard the vuvuzelas. And yet as factual as it was, none of it was true. DM

Photo: South Africa’s Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, addressing the media during a press conference at SAFA House, Johannesburg, South Africa, 03 June 2015. EPA/SHIRAAZ MOHAMED


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