‘Stop cartoonish ideas’ – Cosatu to government on Tottenham Hotspur R1bn saga

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Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and President Cyril Ramaphosa. Photo: GCIS
Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and President Cyril Ramaphosa. Photo: GCIS


President Cyril Ramaphosa needs to take into account nonsensical and offensive decisions taken by ministers ahead of the expected Cabinet reshuffle.

This is according to the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) on Thursday amid a media briefing held by SA Tourism in an attempt to explain the proposed partnership with the  English Premier League Tottenham Hotspur FC believed to amount to R1 billion.

SA Tourism, a marketing agency of the department of tourism headed by Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, is mandated to market SA as a foremost tourism destination both domestically and internationally for leisure and business travel.

Cosatu said in a statement that government should scrap the proposed sponsorship.

The federation said: 

This would amount to more than a third of the budget allocated to promote SA's tourism sector.

Cosatu added this comes against the background of many small tourism operators struggling to recover from Covid-19 and hoping for some financial relief from the department in vain.

"This is a misguided vanity project that will contribute nothing to fix the ailing tourism industry that has not only suffered from Covid-19 but is also sabotaged by electricity cuts and high crime levels."

Cosatu said it was concerned by the number of "wrong-headed and cartoonish ideas" produced by government departments, which were bizarrely even championed by their ministers, on how to fix this ailing sector of the economy.

READ: Tourism stakeholders probe ‘aggressive and coordinated’ recovery plan post-pandemic

Among these decisions, Cosatu said, was the department of sport, arts and culture's proposed "ludicrous and absurd plan" to blow about R22 million on a 100-metre flag monument.

"SA needs to organically create a tourist-friendly environment and abandon these artificial and mechanical ideas," Cosatu declared, adding: "Throwing money that we do not have on a problem will only sink this country deeper into the abyss."

The federation said it was a fact that government was becoming less and less able to meet its obligations through taxation and had resorted to dangerous levels of inflationary borrowing instead. 

Throwing borrowed money on these futile ideas while, at the same time, gutting state institutions through budget cuts is senseless.

The federation mentioned that government wanting to sponsor a rich European soccer team has imposed a vicious wage freeze on nurses, doctors, teachers, police officers and other hardworking public servants since 2020.

"This has left these workers struggling with their wages eroded and repealed by inflation. This puerile idea is an insult to workers and South African taxpayers in general. The presidency, Treasury and the department of planning, monitoring and evaluation need to intervene, stop this waste and scrap this waste of taxpayers’ hard-earned monies. The president would do well to take such nonsensical and offensive episodes into account when he reviews the performance of his ministers and applies his mind on the need for their continued stay in Cabinet."

Forging ahead

SA Tourism acting CEO Themba Khumalo told reporters at the media briefing that they were going ahead with the proposed deal.

Khumalo said the board made a conditional approval because the deal commercially made sense but stakeholders were not engaged.

He said consultation was going to be done before details of the deal were leaked to the media.

Khumalo added: 

It is unfortunate that the information regarding the partnership was leaked ahead of time.

He said Sisulu, as a shareholder, was approached on Wednesday about the deal. 

"What is now left in the process is to consult our tourism sector stakeholders and National Treasury before finalising anything." 

He said the country could not carry on with business as usual because that would not yield the desired results.

"This is why we are contemplating a partnership of this scale with Tottenham Hotspurs FC to really help us shift the dial in our tourist arrivals."

He said the UK was one of SA’s premium travelling markets.

Khumalo said: 

SA Tourism has chosen to explore a partnership with Tottenham Hotspurs FC for a number of reasons, particularly as the UK is one of SA’s key source markets, as per the entity’s marketing prioritisation investment framework.

Furthermore, he said sport was one platform that has sustained aggregated audiences, which the entity could tap into to convert fans and spectators into tourists.

"In 2019 alone, the United Kingdom was the third-largest source of international visitors to SA – accounting for 8.3% of all international arrivals – with over 430 000 British tourists visiting SA," he said.

Khumalo stated the deal was about accessing viewership markets in the UK that would be keen on travelling to South Africa and that it was not about football.

He mentioned their mandate was to persuade international people to spend money on South Africa's economy, whether it was through the sponsorship initiative or any other.

"The government-mandated goal set for SA Tourism is to achieve 21 million international tourist arrivals by 2030. The organisation must, therefore, apply relevant marketing strategies to ensure it delivers on this mandate." 

Sisulu’s take

Sisulu’s office indicated on Wednesday that a media report that she was forcing SA Tourism to push the deal through before she was moved from the tourism portfolio was false.

The deal, her office said, was purely the entity’s board matter on which Sisulu has not been formally briefed.

Like any other board, Sisulu’s office said the board was independent and that she did not interfere with its decisions.

READ: Why South Africa is losing out on the tourism boom

Proposals, her office added, were received by the agency, processed by a project team, and then sent through to the executive committee before being presented to the board.

"In the various portfolios Minister Sisulu has served since the dawn of democracy, her contribution to government speaks for itself," her office said, adding that the proposal dates back to 2017.

At the time, her office said, Sisulu held a different portfolio.

Essentially, SA Tourism's proposal is to conclude a memorandum of understanding with Tottenham Hotspur FC. It is non-binding.

Such a proposal, Sisulu’s office said, has to still pass muster within her ministry and was subject to the concurrence of the National Treasury to conform to government prescripts.

"With regard to this matter, Minister Sisulu is still awaiting a report and is to be briefed by the board as they are independent and take their own decisions on various matters. It is mischievous to relate this to the imminent Cabinet reshuffle."

Sisulu, her office detailed, was in consultation with her legal team and would communicate the way forward in due course.

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