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MPs blast ‘out-of-order’ Sisulu, SA Tourism chiefs, and give Tottenham Hotspur deal the boot

MPs blast ‘out-of-order’ Sisulu, SA Tourism chiefs, and give Tottenham Hotspur deal the boot
Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu. (Photo: Leila Dougan) | Tottenham Hotspur Squad. (Photo: Twitter / @SpursOfficial)

The multiparty parliamentary portfolio committee on tourism resolved unanimously on Tuesday that the controversial R1-billion Tottenham Hotspur sponsorship deal will not go ahead – and that heads should roll. It was a heated marathon meeting, but despite MPs anger and a barrage of criticism, SA Tourism’s acting chief executive, Themba Khumalo, dug in his heels, presenting a report that pushed the benefits of the deal.

Members of Parliament’s portfolio committee on tourism were united in agreement on Tuesday, that the R1-billion Tottenham Hotspur sponsorship deal must be cancelled. 

During the heated, six-hour meeting MPs demanded information about the controversial deal from SA Tourism’s acting chief executive (CEO), Themba Khumalo, interim chief financial officer (CFO) Johan van der Walt and Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu.  

“This deal, it ends here,” stated committee chairperson and ANC MP, Tandi Mahambehlala. 

Mahambehlala said that, in addition to scrapping the deal, Van der Walt must be axed with immediate effect, “because his presence in SA Tourism presents a conflict of interest”. 

“How he ascended to that position was not the result of due process being followed,” she said. 

This came after a Daily Maverick investigation found that Van der Walt worked in the position of “group financial director” for the WWP Group – an agency that would be paid an upfront fee of R31.3-million by 31 March 2023 to “activate” the sponsorship deal.

Tandi Mahambehlala. (Photo: Gallo Images / Daily Maverick / Felix Dlangamandla)

The committee further resolved to investigate the proposed deal which, a Daily Maverick investigation found, would see SA Tourism dish out R910,997,814.75 over three years for sponsorship of the English Premier League team. The article’s publication a week ago has led to an outpouring of public concern from South Africans suffering under the weight of relentless rolling blackouts, dismal service delivery and rising cost of living. 

Read in Daily Maverick:From Lindiwe Sisulu, With Love: Inside SA Tourism’s R1bn proposal to sponsor Tottenham Hotspur

Mahambehlala said that, if push comes to shove, the committee will write to Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana and President Cyril Ramaphosa to demand that the money ring-fenced for the sponsorship be reprioritised. MPs were in unanimous agreement that the deal should be cancelled, with ANC MPs in the room leading the charge against Sisulu and the SA Tourism officials. 

Doubling down

Presenting a 48-page SA Tourism presentation to the committee, Khumalo reiterated his support for the sponsorship deal. 

The acting CEO said that if the deal didn’t go ahead, it would “engender a sense of minimalism and fear” in tourism employees, and would not inspire SA Tourism to do “great, bold things”.

“Should we make a decision not to go with [this deal], we would revert to doing small things… as an organisation,” he said. 

But MPs were flatly unconvinced by Khumalo’s presentation. Several berated him for his “condescending” remarks that, should the deal not progress, SA Tourism would have to advise all its partners and potential partners that it “cannot do big deals”. 

Following his presentation, Mahambehlala said she was uncertain about whether she welcomed the SA Tourism report. She was “bothered” by Khumalo’s statement that the deal with Tottenham Hotspur seeked to inspire South Africans, particularly those in rural communities. 

“How is it going to benefit our own players? Because we’ve got players that are dreaming to be international football players one day. How is it going to benefit those youngsters?” she asked. 

Mahambehlala was resolute that the deal “is not going to happen”.

“It is not beneficial to South Africans nor to society at large, let alone those aspiring young players who are in our professional football teams.

“We really need to take a stand on this particular matter.” 

Timelines

Among the concerns expressed by MPs was the apparent short timeframe in which the deal was proposed and approved by the SA Tourism board, and the timing and process of Van der Walt’s appointment as the entity’s interim CFO in January 2023. 

Following calls from MPs for Van der Walt to account, Khumalo informed the committee that Van der Walt was outside the room. 

When asked by Mahambehlala why Van der Walt was not in the meeting room, Khumalo replied: “I had a conversation with the chairperson of the board prior to the commencement of this meeting. We took the view that because some of the issues that have been raised pertain to him personally… we said that he should be present to answer any questions but maybe should not be in the room at this time.”

Khumalo’s response was received with a degree of hostility, and Mahambehlala slammed the acting CEO for ordering Van der Walt to remain outside. 

“Next time you don’t make decisions on behalf of this committee… When we invite SA Tourism to the meetings of the portfolio committee, we invite the entire component. You dare not do that again,” she said.

Speaking directly to Van der Walt after he joined the meeting, Mahambehlala ruled his absence out of order. 

“We don’t understand why you were not in this room… We find it very out of order. Be that as it may, in this meeting you are expected to account. And when you are in this precinct, in a form of a meeting of Parliament, whatever lies that you utter, you can be prosecuted – in case you were not aware of that,” said Mahambehlala, as MPs began to grill Van der Walt on his ties to the agency that was set to be used to “activate” the deal.

In response, Van der Walt repeatedly claimed he had “no financial interests in WWP Group” and only played a consultancy role in the company. 

SA Tourism Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham Hotspur football club’s White Hart Lane stadium in north London. (Photo: Oli Scarff / Getty Images)

However, MPs remained unconvinced that his position as interim CFO was not a conflict of interest, and called for him to resign from the position with immediate effect. 

MPs insisted on an investigation into the processes followed in Van der Walt’s appointment to the role, and challenged the timeline of events presented by Khumalo.

Of particular concern were the costs of a trip by the SA Tourism board to the UK in January this year to meet stakeholders. 

‘A law unto herself’

MPs were angered that, when the meeting began, Sisulu was absent, accusing her of undermining the committee and being “a law unto herself”.

Sisulu has a history of non-attendance of tourism portfolio committee meetings – in November the committee issued a summons against her after requests for her to appear before it were ignored. The minister responded by saying she was seeking legal advice on the matter. 

In a statement on Tuesday, Sisulu’s spokesperson, Steve Motale, said the minister had not “snubbed” the committee meeting, but had first attended the joint meeting of all Cabinet committees led by Ramaphosa at 9am. 

After the Bell South Africa tourism

Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“Minister Sisulu takes exception to the decision of the portfolio committee to not read her written apology, which was submitted on 6 February 2023,” said Motale. 

After a bruising first half, Sisulu eventually joined the meeting at about midday, as MPs finished questioning Khumalo and Van der Walt. 

However, she left 30 minutes later. 

Commenting on the reason for Sisulu’s hasty exit, Mahambehlala said: “The Madam is leaving because she thinks it is not appropriate to be here on the eve of the State of the Nation Address.”

“I’m not sure what that means, but my understanding is that executives are not supposed to have programmes on the eve of the Sona. However, she indicated to the secretary that when she is needed, she will be in her office,” said Mahambehlala.

Among MPs’ queries was the question of how much Sisulu knew about the sponsorship deal. After receiving no concrete answers from SA Tourism, Mahambehlala insisted that the minister reappear before the committee, which she did. 

Asked by Mahambehlala whether she knew about the deal, Sisulu said: “No, I did not know of the deal. I knew of the deal when it became an issue and members of the board came to brief me about the deal.”

However, Daily Maverick understands that the minister had extensive knowledge of the deal in advance, with sources close to the matter saying she was allegedly eager for it to be sealed before the impending Cabinet reshuffle. 

Adding to Khumalo’s remarks, Sisulu maintained that the “deal does not exist” until certain steps are followed – one of which is obtaining approval from Treasury and the President. 

If the expenses required are above a certain amount, the minister said she would be required to assist in obtaining permission from Treasury. 

That permission had not yet been sought, she said. 

However, Sisulu said she “did not know” how much had been spent on the SA Tourism board’s visit to London. 

“The board does not need my permission to go anywhere. The board does not need my permission to use any amount of money they have scheduled they have to adhere to.”

Out of order

Speaking about her earlier absence and later hasty exit from the meeting, Sisulu claimed that, ahead of the Sona, ministers should avoid “side-issues which would distract from Sona”.

When MPs clapped back at the minister for her late arrival, Sisulu said she felt “undermined by the committee”, and suggested that the meeting be rescheduled or that she be allowed to appear at another time. 

“I have a Cabinet committee meeting, and that is my first responsibility because the President presides over that,” she said.

Mahambehlala said she would never shift a meeting to suit Sisulu’s diary, and added that she didn’t believe that the meetings clashed. 

In closing, Mahambehlala reiterated the outcomes of the meeting in which the committee resolved that the sponsorship deal must be cancelled. Sisulu chimed in, claiming that the decision would ultimately lie with the President. Mahambehlala ruled her out of order. 

“Here we are a portfolio committee of Parliament, and all executives in this country – even the President – are accountable to Parliament. So what you’re saying here is extremely out of order. We stand by our decision and will not allow you to disrupt this meeting.” 

Khumalo apologises for arrogance

During the meeting, MPs called out Khumalo for his comments at a media briefing last week, where he lashed out at the whistle-blower responsible for leaking the presentations. Khumalo had angrily suggested that leaking the documents was “un-South African” and that the person should be “isolated” when found out. 

In the meeting, DA MP Manny de Freitas berated Khumalo for his comments which, he said, sought to “vilify” and “intimidate” whistle-blowers. 

Responding to De Freitas and other MPs, Khumalo said that it was from his deduction that the leak had come from a board member which “disturbed” him. 

Khumalo apologised for “coming across in a matter that was arrogant and probably self-confident” at the media briefing last Thursday. DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Cobus Elstadt says:

    Yes, you should attend the cabinet meeting. I have it on good authority that they have fresh biscuits there.

  • Rainer Thiel says:

    I am very impressed. Snotklaps left and right for the whole sick crew of imbeciles that dreamt up this disaster. Here is a portfolio committee doing its job and then some! Here’s kudos to Tandi Mahambehlala.

    • David Hill says:

      Sisulu thinks she’s Royalty and that she can get away with this sort of behaviour – she did it when she was at water affairs as well. She is a disgrace

      • Confucious Says says:

        For sure! This is exactly why she attacked the Constitution! It gets in her way when she wants to do as she pleases. Delusional and not very clever.

  • Graeme de Villiers says:

    So van der Walt was “very out of order” and Madam Sisulu was “extremely out of order”.
    This must have been a complete hoot of a meeting to attend 🙂

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Some sanity at last…. Perhaps we should now ask Spurs to support and pay for some football fields, coaching and education in the townships around South Africa….they can afford it and could use it as a marketing opportunity stating they support the growth of football in disadvantaged communities in South Africa ( for a start!) and around the world!

  • David Edwards says:

    We’ve seen this before with the ANC, let’s see whether Tandi Mahambehlala’s position stays the same, or whether in the near future she becomes an advocate for the deal…

  • Rudd van Deventer says:

    Easy to understand. Just do this one deal and your budget is spent for the next three years with almost no personal effort on the part of Tourism.

  • Eleanor Lemmer says:

    I am impressed, encouraged and proud of the manner in which Thandi Mahambehlala led this meeting and stood up unwaveringly to the usual bullies. This is the way South Africa can go forward in spite of the onslaught of dishonest and self-interested dealing.

  • Jennifer Hughes says:

    Thank you, Daily Maverick, for your incredibly important role in stamping this deal out!

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    The bottom line is that we, the electorate, don’t trust anything with the stamp of approval of a politician, especially ANC politicians.

  • Deon Botha-Richards says:

    If you take take the 1 billion and sponsor flights to the tune of 10,000 each you will bring 100,000 tourists to South Africa.

    Now that would a direct tourism boost.

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