South Africa

SPURSGATE

How SA Tourism CFO lied about links to Tottenham Hotspur sponsorship ‘activation’ agency

How SA Tourism CFO lied about links to Tottenham Hotspur sponsorship ‘activation’ agency
Photo by Christopher Bill on Unsplash

SA Tourism’s interim CFO Johan van der Walt misrepresented his ties to the agency that was set to be used to activate the R1-billion Tottenham Hotspur sponsorship deal, Daily Maverick can reveal.

SA Tourism’s interim chief financial officer, Johan van der Walt, told Daily Maverick last week that his ties to the agency that could cash in on the controversial R1-billion Spurs sponsorship deal were highly limited.

When asked about his relationship with WWP Group, the agency named in documents as due to be given a £1.5-million (R31.3-million) upfront fee by 31 March 2023 to “activate” the sponsorship, Van der Walt replied in writing: “I have no financial interest in WWP Group, but I have in the past done some consulting work for WWP Group from time to time – predominantly work of a tax nature.”

But Daily Maverick has seen emails from 2019 proving that Van der Walt worked directly for the WWP Group at this time in the position of “group financial director”, rendering his characterisation of the relationship highly questionable.

The correspondence, which has been seen by Daily Maverick, shows Van der Walt’s role in WWP Group clearly went far beyond intermittent, pro bono tax consulting.

In the emails, Van der Walt apologises to a freelance creative who has not yet received payment for work they undertook for the WWP Group.

“We are unfortunately experiencing a delayed payment on a large project which, together with amounts we had to invest in other projects for which we have not been paid in full yet as well as other amounts where clients have not paid us yet, does not allow us to process any payments at this stage,” writes Van der Walt.

He concludes the email with the line: “With the tough economy we have to look after our clients and can only push them to an extent.”

Van der Walt’s email signature identifies him as the “Group FD” [financial director] of the WWP Group.

The freelance creative in question, who requested anonymity due to fear of professional reprisals, said that WWP Group had a bad reputation for delayed payment or non-payment of contractors – despite the fact that it was widely known that the agency benefitted from lucrative SA Tourism contracts.

South African company records show that the WWP Group was founded in September 2013. Van der Walt resigned from SA Tourism in October 2013 – one month later.


Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations


Who’s lying to whom?

Van der Walt told Daily Maverick that when he rejoined SA Tourism in January 2023 on a seven-month contract as interim CFO, he made full disclosure of his business interests. 

There has been no official word from SA Tourism thus far on how Van der Walt could have been permitted to play a significant role in putting together a sponsorship deal with direct financial benefits to a company with which he maintains close ties.

As reported by Daily Maverick last week, Van der Walt is also listed as an active director of a number of companies with similar names to the WWP Group – for instance WWP Events and WWP Studios – which share the same business address as the WWP Group.

Read more in Daily Maverick:SA Tourism interim CFO has ties to agency which could cash in on Tottenham Hotspur deal

Heated SA Tourism board meeting sees three resignations

Sources close to the deal said that there was fury within SA Tourism at the revelation of Van der Walt’s conflict of interests, with acting CEO Themba Khumalo having felt that he had brought the public on his side with the Spurs deal via his animated media briefing on Thursday, 2 February.

The extent of Khumalo’s knowledge of Van der Walt’s conflicted situation, prior to Daily Maverick’s reporting, is unknown. SA Tourism is yet to make any formal statement on the issue.

At a heated SA Tourism board meeting on Saturday, 4 February, board members expressed anger at having been left in the dark about Van der Walt’s situation before giving their approval to the deal.

A terse statement from the board members in question subsequently reported the resignation of Enver Duminy, Ravi Nadasen and Rosemary Anderson as a result of “a difference of opinion”.

The SA Tourism statement on the matter, sent out shortly after, made no mention of the reason for the resignations.

Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s spokesperson Steve Motale subsequently did the rounds of broadcast media, hinting that the three resignations were the result of “misconduct” relating to the Spurs deal.

Daily Maverick understands, however, that the three resigned members were vocal in their disapproval of the Spurs deal and were therefore suspected of having leaked the information to the media, creating an atmosphere of hostility and intimidation that made their continued positions untenable.

Sisulu reportedly about to announce Spurs deal binned

The Sunday Times has reported that Sisulu would be announcing that the Spurs deal was off the table, allowing her to distance herself from a proposal that Daily Maverick understands she had extensive knowledge of in advance.

This continues to be denied by both Sisulu’s spokesperson and SA Tourism CEO Khumalo, who told the press conference last week that Sisulu had not yet been briefed on the Spurs proposal.

That notion has already been contradicted by former SA Tourism board chair Dr Nondumiso Maphazi, who told The Sowetan last week that Sisulu had signed off on a delegation that visited London in mid-January to work on the Spurs deal.

Maphazi told Daily Maverick on Sunday, 5 February, that she was not prepared to comment further on the matter.

Tourism-Spurs deal: English Premier League guarantees massive exposure but not necessarily good returns

Even if the Spurs deal is binned, it appears that the floodgates have opened to other such proposals.

A video that went viral over the weekend shows SA Tourism COO Sonto Ndlovu and Khumalo opening a box containing another sponsorship enticement.

Ndlovu subsequently tweeted: “Destination South Africa is now hot property. Another proposal just landed. ManU [Manchester United] this time. 1.1 billion followers”.

The South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc), meanwhile, released a statement reporting its members’ “absolute outrage and disagreement” at the proposed Spurs deal.

Sascoc noted that a slew of international sporting events are being hosted by South Africa in 2023 – including the Netball World Cup – and suggested that SA Tourism consider putting some of its marketing budget behind these events instead. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Joe Soap says:

    Themba Khumalo having felt that he had brought the public on his side with the Spurs deal via his animated media briefing on Thursday, 2 February.

    Rather do a survey of public opinion that guess what it is from behind some camera. I believe you are wrong. Are Spur’s big travelers, especially to Africa. Or do they just travel to their local bars to booze during matches?

  • Clive Simpkins says:

    Naïveté or plain wishful thinking?
    ‘…. with acting CEO Themba Khumalo having felt that he had brought the public on his side with the Spurs deal via his animated media briefing on Thursday, 2 February.’
    ‘Pastor’ Themba Khumalo has little chance of resurrecting anything, any longer. A paternalistic, blustering embarrassment if ever there was one. If he has a *shred* of self-respect he should fall on his sword.

    • D'Esprit Dan says:

      Spot on. Problem is finding the dastardly sword with all that gravy sloshing around.

    • D'Esprit Dan says:

      Is it just me, or has there actually been an acceleration in the levels of theft and corruption under Ramaphosa? Seems like since the Guptas fled to Dubai, or the actual Gangster’s Paradise, it’s been open season for everyone else.

      • Eon van Wyk says:

        It does seem that there is a “steal while you can” effort going on. They don’t seem to care about operating in the shadows anymore. It could also be that journalists are scrutenising everything way more and uncover all the efforts at stealing

      • Lisbeth Scalabrini says:

        In my opinion it has just come out into the open. What surprises me is that people still have the guts to try stealing as if it is normal behaviour with any deal that goes through.

      • Marko V says:

        Perhaps they have noticed the complete lack of consequences and accountability.

        • D'Esprit Dan says:

          I think you’ve all summed it up pretty nicely – no consequences, no fear of retribution, and to add to that, quite possibly a return of the Premier League and Bell Pottinger mob sooner, rather than later, so if you just tough it out for a few years, Stalingrad the $#it out of the judicial system, then hey presto! home and dry and can roll the Bentley out for all to see.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    The expression “as thick as thieves” springs to mind whilst reading this article!
    Decency, morality and ethics go out the window when opportunities to steal from the exhausted SA taxpayer arise. The day will come when taxpayers have finally had enough!

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Lindiwe, Minister Siszulu, really? How deep do you want to dig the hole to bury yourself in? What a total waste of space.

  • WWP agency, derived from the famous WPP group. This is blatantly a front for skimming money. Another ‘Digital Vibes’

  • virginia crawford says:

    Liars and then more liars: totally shameless.

  • Jimbo Smith says:

    The rot & stench of just about everything our politicians touch is sickening. And then the lies, blame game, denial and ultimately NO CONSEQUENCE follows from the ANC scripted response sheet. Incredible!!!

  • Kevin Immelman says:

    Want to market SA as a destination and have an immediate effect?
    Offer the first 100 000 (yes 100 thousand) tourists (not businessmen) a cash on arrival amount of R1000.
    You are guaranteeing your R1bn is spent in SA and each one of those tourists will be bringing at least $1200 (R20 000) to spend on accommodation etc.
    Your R1bn investment is spent in SA and raised a further R20bn to be spent locally.
    Not a bad ROI

    • Jane Crankshaw says:

      Sadly most of the “tourists” that would arrive will be from other African countries purely to receive the R1000 offer! At the current ROE, UK tourists would not consider £50 an incentive! Terrible thought that one day we taxpayers might have to pay visitors to come to this country….

  • comynguy says:

    One can see this as the Hog’s desperate scramble to stuff their gorges with taxpayers’ money. Their venality is only surpassed by their stupidity and incompetence in thinking any project through. The ANC has probably the greatest collection of idiots of any other political entity in history.
    Let’s see when the resignations start rolling in \ but don’t hold you’re waiting for it to happen.

  • Geoff Woodruff says:

    I imagine that the handling fee for this nearly one billion Rand deal would be quite substantial. The guy must have been licking his chops at the prospect. I guess he’s licking his wounds instead now.

  • Peter Gosnell says:

    I would be surprised if Spurs still want the reputational risk of being associated with SA Tourism..

  • sandpipertours says:

    There was considerable hype about research that showed that a R1bn investment in Tottenham Hotspurs would yield a return of R6bn. Be interesting if you can trace and publish the gist of this “investigation”. Thanks, Madi Gray

  • Julian Howard says:

    This is a criminally insane deal.
    The money would be far better spent on updating the SAN Parks expensive but decrepit accommodation .

  • Bryan Macpherson says:

    Like so many ANC cadres, Van de Walt clearly has great difficulty with the concept of honesty. While children drown in pit latrines, these people squander resources at will.

  • Malcolm Kent says:

    OK so 1.1 billion followers so if only a tiny percentage of those are encouraged to consider a visit to S.A. that’s still a huge amount. What first will they do? Google of course. What will they find – 6-10 hours of blackout each day, beaches polluted with sewage, dubious water supply, huge unemployment so people turn to every scam imaginable to survive, tourists shot outside game reserves, collapsing hospitals et al. How many will come? Not enough to justify a R1b. spend. If there was enough room on the shirt to print “Visit S.A. & see how an incompetent, self-serving government that is totally inured from the state of the country & its people can destroy all critical infrastructure in a short space of time.” then some may come out of curiosity. Idiot Khumalo says “it’s not about football” – how can R1b investment in a football club not be about football? This is the most insensitive, ludicrous proposal ever.

  • David Muller says:

    Who said, “As I am so is my nation”? Sometimes I feel like donning my spurs, saddling up and riding out of town, not stopping till I cross the border…

  • Michael Gray says:

    Is this the same Gupta vdWalt?

  • Ed Richardson Richardson says:

    More lies – the real cost of the R1bn Tottenham Hotspur sponsorship by SA Tourism will be a lot higher. Tourism officials and their hangers-on will, of course, need to be at the matches – which means first class air tickets, five star hotels and allowances. Add to that the hire of corporate boxes, because it would not be done to sit with the common people you expect to be inspired to visit your country. Ed Richardson

  • Zed McGladdery says:

    Imagine that Minister Sisulu had no knowledge that her tourism board was about to spend 1/3 of its annual budget on this deal. If true, this shows the minister is incompetent and should be removed. The ANC cadre deployment committee fills the board with comrades. It appoints the CEO who then tells us it is the board’s responsibility to approve or disapprove… but these are comrades (with a few exceptions) who have little or no skill and are put in position for party loyalty that requires them to sign off on what the CEO puts in front of them. Where are the details of this contract? Does it include any sharing of profit and risk? A competent minister and board would have invited Tottenham to play a game here so as to assess the profitability of the idea. Instead of paying money upfront, South Africa could share the profits according to an agreed formula. But we all know that ministers and cadres are most competent in grabbing their cut, and blinded by greed and party loyalty, or incompetent in business. Much respect to the board members and CFO who resigned and shame on the others.

  • Two Wrongs Aint No Right says:

    I wonder why the infatuation with soccer? Is it because the decision makers involved are soccer lovers? For sure not business lovers, because in business you will nurture your existing markets passionately before spending a cent on a new, unexplored territory. Current markets are dominated by travel companies and trade exhibitions. My conclusion is that the tourism leaders are not at all skilled in businesses, merely soccer fans entrusted with a lot of money to spend.

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