Patricia de Lille has acted with unusual speed and integrity over Spurs matter — but please, Minister, don’t stop there
In the wake of the Tottenham Hotspur sponsorship scandal, Tourism Minister Patricia de Lille announced on Wednesday that she had dissolved the SA Tourism board. The move is welcome, but further action should follow.
The SA Tourism board is no more, Tourism Minister Patricia de Lille said on Wednesday.
“On 6 April 2023, I wrote a letter to the then chairperson of the SA Tourism Board, Dr Thozamile Botha, asking for representation on why I should not dissolve the Board in terms of my powers under the Tourism Act,” De Lille’s statement reads.
“My letter outlined a number of serious concerns, such as the conduct of the Board in respect of the Tottenham Hotspur sponsorship matter, the composition of the Board and whether the members have the necessary knowledge, experience or qualifications as required by section 13 of the Tourism Act; and certain serious allegations raised by the Acting CEO regarding the lack of a proper functioning Board.”
After De Lille sent this letter, the chair and seven other board members resigned — leaving just three members, which is not enough to form a quorum.
“In all the circumstances, I believe that good cause exists to dissolve the Board and I shall do so officially through the Government Gazette on Friday 21 April 2023,” De Lille concluded.
It is rare to see South African Cabinet ministers taking this kind of rapid and decisive action in the face of malfeasance in government bodies, and De Lille deserves credit. It is a welcome universe apart from the actions of her predecessor, Lindiwe Sisulu, who showed no sign of unhappiness with the SA Tourism board over the proposed R1-billion sponsorship deal with Tottenham Hotspur — in itself lending credence to the claim, reported by Daily Maverick and denied by Sisulu, that the former minister was herself a fan of the deal.
But if De Lille is serious about draining the swamp, so to speak, there are further actions she should take. This is doubly the case because the parliamentary inquiry on the matter for which the DA’s Manny de Freitas is calling seems unlikely to materialise.
Possibly the most significant avenue De Lille should investigate is the role of the acting CEO of SA Tourism, Themba Khumalo, in the Spurs deal.
Khumalo, who shocked much of the country with an abrasive, hectoring press conference in which he strenuously defended the rationality of the deal and swore vengeance on the deal’s whistle-blower, has a decidedly chequered history at his previous places of employment, which include the Airports Company of SA (Acsa), SAA and Telkom.
Exactly why Khumalo was so hellbent on pushing through the Spurs deal is a question that deserves to be probed.
So too does the behaviour of the most recent board chair, Thozamile Botha, who appeared similarly reluctant to let the deal go — despite condemnation from industry experts, and the revelation by Daily Maverick that a possibly corrupt relationship existed between SA Tourism’s acting chief financial officer Johan van der Walt and the agency being proposed to “activate” the deal, WWP Group.
Van der Walt has since resigned. But Daily Maverick is reliably informed that WWP Group, for which Van der Walt was at one point financial director, is still being used as a marketing agency by various bodies and branches of government. At the very least, these contracts should be scrutinised for evidence of further conflicts of interest.
It is probably safe to say that public confidence in SA Tourism is at an all-time low, and the new board will have their work cut out to rebuild trust. De Lille can take another massive stride ahead of her predecessor, however, if she appoints board members with actual experience in tourism.
This may seem like a ludicrously low bar to meet. But as Daily Maverick reported, the resignation from the SA Tourism board of Enver Duminy, Ravi Nadasen and Rosemary Anderson — apparently in protest at the Spurs deal — left the board effectively denuded of any tourism expertise at all.
Duminy, Nadasen and Anderson are all seasoned tourism professionals and an attempt should probably be made to get them back on board. The rest of the board should be filled out with a similar calibre of members — who, in addition to tourism experience, have the independence and backbone to hold the SA Tourism executive to account, rather than slavishly cooperating with their harebrained/corrupt schemes.
De Lille has acted with unusual speed and integrity over the Spurs matter. But please, Minister, don’t stop there: prove that you are serious about cleaning house at SA Tourism by properly getting to the bottom of what lay beneath this dirty deal — and why its defenders were so passionate. DM