Tourism committee says Spurs deal ends 'here, now' as it dribbles Sisulu

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Spurs' Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son.
Spurs' Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son.
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  • The Portfolio Committee on Tourism resolved that SA Tourism's proposed deal with English football club Tottenham Hotspur "ends today, now".
  • Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, who faced a hostile reception when she eventually appeared before the committee, said as far as the government is concerned, there is no deal with Spurs.
  • Last week, news broke of SA Tourism's proposed sponsorship deal with Tottenham, worth R1 billion over three years, causing a public outcry.

As far as the government is concerned, there is no deal between SA Tourism and Tottenham Hotspur, said Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, who faced a reception from the Portfolio Committee on Tourism that's usually reserved for Arsenal players at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium - hostile.

The committee was unimpressed with SA Tourism's presentation on Tuesday, and committee chairperson Tandi Mahambehlala summed up its sentiment towards the proposed deal as follows: "It ends here today, now."

If SA Tourism isn't swayed, the committee will write to the Treasury and President Cyril Ramaphosa, asking that the funds earmarked for the deal be otherwise allocated.

Furthermore, the committee also wants to investigate the proposed deal, which would see SA Tourism pay close to R1 billion over three years for a sponsorship deal with the north London-based English Premier League side.  

When Sisulu pointed out that the final decision would be with Ramaphosa, Mahambehlala ruled her out of order, the culmination of a day of hostilities between the committee and Sisulu. ANC MPs usually treat ministers with kid gloves, but the gloves came off on Tuesday.

The committee was scheduled from 09:00 until 12:00. When it started a few minutes after 09:00, members were told that Sisulu tendered her apologies without any reason given. 

Several MPs complained that Sisulu continues to undermine them through her failure to appear before the committee.

READ | SA Tourism CFO linked to agency related to controversial Tottenham Hotspur deal

At 13:00, with the committee still going strong in interrogating SA Tourism's presentation, Sisulu entered the stuffy committee room.

She left abruptly about 35 minutes later.

"The madam is leaving because she thinks she should not be here because it is the eve of the State of the Nation Address," said Mahambehlala, who later described Sisulu's appearance as a "five-minute photo shoot".

As the committee continued its work, the Ministry of Tourism released a statement saying Sisulu noted reports that she deliberately missed the meeting.

"The minister would like to clarify that she attended the Joint Meeting of all Cabinet Committees led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, which was a physical meeting which started at 09:00. The portfolio committee meeting also started at 09:00.

"Minister Sisulu takes exception to the decision of the portfolio committee not to read her written apology, which was submitted on 6 February 2023. An apology was also sent by Deputy Minister Fish Mahlalela."

Tourism minister Lindiwe Sisuly
Tourism minister Lindiwe Sisulu.
Gallo Images Gallo Images

The statement said Sisulu wished to "re-emphasise yet again that she respects the portfolio committee in its role as an extension of Parliament to exercise oversight".

With the committee dissatisfied with the answers it received from the SA Tourism board, and with how much Sisulu knew about the proposed deal being of particular interest, Mahambehlala insisted that Sisulu reappear before the committee. After a call from her staff present at the meeting, Sisulu reappeared.

READ | SA Tourism defends 'new, innovative' R900m Spurs proposal after backlash: 'We were prepared for it'

"No," Sisulu answered the question of whether she knew about the deal.

She explained she picked up details about it at the press conference that SA Tourism's acting CEO Themba Khumalo had last week after the news of the deal broke.

Sisulu has since been briefed.

She said it is "within the preserve of the board to seek out opportunities" to market South Africa abroad, and it does not need the minister's permission.

However, if the expenditure is above a certain amount (she didn't specify how much), the minister's help would be required to obtain permission from Treasury. This is such a case.

"I am not aware that any agreement has been signed with Tottenham Hotspurs (sic)," she said. "That would only happen after agreements from Treasury."

She said permission hadn't been sought from the Treasury.

"So we do not have a deal, as far as government is concerned."

About her earlier absence and her public silence on the deal amid much controversy, Sisulu said ahead of the State of the Nation Address (SONA, which Ramaphosa will deliver on Thursday evening) ministers should avoid "side issues which would distract from SONA".

Sisulu explained leaving the meeting as follows: "When I saw the media here, I thought I should recuse myself."

She said she felt undermined by the committee, which has its meetings on Tuesdays when she has to be in Cabinet committees over which Ramaphosa presides and attempts to reschedule the portfolio committee meetings have proven unsuccessful.

Mahambehlala said Parliament has a responsibility to exercise oversight over the executive, and she will never reschedule a meeting to suit Sisulu's diary.

She added that she doesn't believe Sisulu.

According to Mahambehlala, Sisulu once apologised "two minutes" before a meeting, only to make the news on the same day for "being chased away from a particular prison visiting a particular person", in reference to her failed visit with former ANC Northern Cape chairperson John Block, who is serving a 15 year sentence for corruption.   

Mahambehlala commended the media "who went wild with this issue of Tottenham Hotspur, rightfully so".

Tottenham's notoriously bare cabinet last saw a major trophy when it won the FA Cup in 1991. On Sunday, they beat defending champions and second-placed Manchester City 1–0 in the Premier League, keeping their arch-rivals Arsenal five points clear at the top of the table.

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