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19 August 2017 18:57 (South Africa)
Opinionista Stephen Grootes

Safa still trying to pass the Mbaks

  • Stephen Grootes
    Grootes for DM.jpg
    Stephen Grootes

    Grootes is the host of the Midday Report on 702 and Cape Talk, and the Senior Political Correspondent for Eyewitness News. He's been part of the political hack pack since before the Polokwane Tsunami, and covers politics in a slightly obsessive manner. Those who love him have recommended help for his politics addiction. He quotes Amy Winehouse.

On Wednesday morning it appeared that all of the South Africans involved in the decision to either pay a bribe to ensure we hosted the World Cup, or to make a payment to the African Diaspora (pick one) were going to finally answer questions about the payment. In the end, only one of them did. The person who knows the least about what happened ended up being the only one to actually speak. It was full of misdirection, nonsense, and, well, Razzmatazz. But it didn’t obscure the fact that Danny Jordaan and Molefi Oliphant should just come clean. And tell us, as the people who actually made the decisions, why they did it.

On Monday a letter emerged, signed by then-SAFA CEO Molefi Oliphant, addressed to the FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valke, asking him to direct $10 million of FIFA funds originally earmarked for South Africa to the American football federation CONCACAF. Unusually, the letter specifically asked that that money be controlled only by then-CONCACAF President Jack Warner, who is currently the subject of an Interpol Red Notice, and wanted by the Americans in relation to their probe into corruption in the global game. If you’re someone who wears Blue Bull underwear and thinks Bafana Bafana is a detergent, you may not yet know that the claim is that that money was a bribe.

We are now in the realm of arguments about definition. SAFA, and Fikile Mbalula, say that the money was part of a programme to “help the African diaspora”. In other words, it was about helping Africans who don’t live on the continent to enjoy the benefits of Africa hosting the World Cup. It’s true that at one point our government did ask FIFA if it would be possible to have a game or two in other Southern African countries, to spread the love a little. That request was denied [as was freedom of speech, movement, and the right to land at King Shaka Airport during the tournament – Ed].

The Americans say that payment was a simple bribe.

The test of this is probably whether or not we would have won the bid to host the tournament, if we had not made the payment (or asked Valke to make the payment). While the laws of physics make it rather difficult to go back in time and find out, the laws of politics demand that we have a good old-fashioned fight about this. And throw in words like “imperialism” and “colonialism” while we do it.

Even if we accept that the World Cup would have gone to Morocco without that payment, there is still a case to say that Jordaan & Co. did the right thing. In almost all organisations, horse-trading, bartering, dealing, etc. goes on. It happens in the ANC and in the DA. It happens in the Labour, Conservative, Republican and Democratic parties. It happens in every body corporate meeting in the country. The only place it doesn’t happen is probably the IFP.

South Africans, being adults, know this. And surely, surely, they would still support Jordaan if he went on live television, put his hand on his heart, and said that he did cause the payment to be made, because he knew it would win us the World Cup. And that while it was a very grubby moment, he still believed it was the right thing to do.

At the time, we were incredibly excited about hosting the thing. If we’d had a referendum on whether he should make the payment to ensure we got it, he’d probably have won.

This, then, from a political and public relations point of view, makes his silence difficult to understand. The problem, for him, is surely the way Americans view (their) law. They believe that that they have the right to prosecute this case, even though it doesn’t materially affect them. They have a network of extradition treaties with many countries around the world. And while our government may well tell Obama not to touch them on their Danny, other countries may not be so willing. Which would seriously restrict him to the area around the jurisdiction of Port Elizabeth.

The Americans do also have other sticks, and could use all manner of manoeuvers to try to put pressure on the Union Buildings to cough him up. And that could get diplomatically ugly. And financially expensive.

This situation, then, may well explain the absence of Jordaan and Oliphant from Wednesday’s press conference. They were certainly expected.

Predictably, Mbalula is capable of filling any silence. He started with a video presentation by, of all people, Thabo Mbeki. The Mbaks/Mbeki relationship is slightly more distant than arm’s length. Twitter was quick to point to an open letter Mbalula once wrote to Mbeki, full of bile and vitriol. In the video, shot in 2011, Mbeki spoke about the benefits of the tournament to the diaspora. It truly was a case of using one’s enemy because he’s the only person you have to support you.

Apart from parroting the line that the payment to Warner was “not a bribe”, Mbalula also used some well-worn weapons. He appealed to South African journalists to be patriots, and to avoid just searching for criminality. Somehow, he believes, it is our duty not to be journalists, but to simply serve as PR officers for our rulers. Really. If we’d wanted to do PR, we would have gone to work for FIFA. He is simply playing the scoundrel with this claim. He seems to forget that it is every South African’s duty, if they are patriots, to blow the whistle on corruption. And the duty of journalists to ask the questions to get information, and to place that in front of citizens. Anything less is to allow a dictatorship to develop.

And what’s wrong with not being a patriot in the first place? There is no duty to be a patriot upon anyone – we do have freedom of belief in this country. That’s what makes it so great. (Although his comments did sound a lot like those of Number One recently.)

Mbalula also took great delight in reminding us all that Valke is a South African citizen. To which the only possible response is, “So what? So, according to legend, is Wesley Snipes.”

The fact is, Mbalula, as entertaining as he can be, is simply a distraction. He wasn’t there, he doesn’t actually know what happened. He’s possibly being wheeled out just to provide that distraction. But Jordaan was there. Oliphant was there. His signature is on the blasted letter. They are the people who know what really happened, and why. They should find a way, if their lawyers are able, to explain it to us. They will find us a receptive audience.

Because Jordaan did what we asked him to do. He brought us the World Cup. DM

  • Stephen Grootes
    Grootes for DM.jpg
    Stephen Grootes

    Grootes is the host of the Midday Report on 702 and Cape Talk, and the Senior Political Correspondent for Eyewitness News. He's been part of the political hack pack since before the Polokwane Tsunami, and covers politics in a slightly obsessive manner. Those who love him have recommended help for his politics addiction. He quotes Amy Winehouse.

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