Attorney takes on Komphela

Butana Komphela’s aggressive stance does not only have the South African Sports Confederation (Sascoc) calling his bluff. Prominent Johannesburg attorney Zola Majavu has also challenged the controversial portfolio committee chair’s authority.

Majavu dared Komphela to carry out his threat to bring Majavu “to book” when the latter erroneously thought Majavu was representing Sascoc in a disciplinary action against Athletic South Africa president Leonard Chuene.

Komphela made the threat against Majavu in the issue of the Mail & Guardian where he accused Sascoc of being “full of Indians and whites” who knew nothing about transformation.

“Mashishi and the legal team [Zola Majavu and Jan Venter] whom Chuene appeared before will be brought to book. You cannot kill someone and say you were given instructions to do so.
This matter was closed in Parliament and we will deal with it accordingly as soon as we come back from recess in two weeks time. We will not allow people to undermine Parliament,” said Komphela.

The M&G is in possession of a letter to Komphela in which Majavu wrote: “I forgive you in advance for thinking that you could call me to appear before you and account [for] how I execute my mandate on behalf of my clients. If you think you do, I dare you—no, in fact, I challenge you—to summon me to appear before you or bring me to book.

“The last time I checked the portfolio committee on sports was not synonymous with the law society. Simply put, my brother, you neither have the statutory nor constitutional wherewithal to bring the lawyer in me to book. And that is a fact, not disrespect.”

Majavu also accused Komphela of not first getting his facts straight. “Firstly, Chuene didn’t appear before ‘a disciplinary committee’, which I chaired. In fact, he personally appeared at an inquiry into various allegations made against him. He also stated categorically, and from the outset, that he accepts that the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee of South Africa have jurisdiction over him and Athletics South Africa.

“Secondly, to the extent that you suggest that both myself and Venter were appointed by Sascoc to ‘kill’ Chuene, you are clearly wrong. On the contrary, the person who was appointed to argue and present Sascoc’s case was Metja Ledwaba.”

The stand-off between the committee and Sascoc continued this week, with the portfolio committee “inviting” Sascoc to a meeting, even though the confederation said it would no longer accept invitations as long as the committee is chaired by Komphela. Sascoc accuses Komphela of being racist and of failing to show proper decorum.

The invitation is an obvious sign of the committee flexing its muscles, coming hardly a week after the confederation said it would not accept future invitations.

Moss Mashishi, president of Sascoc, declined to say whether it will accept the invitation, saying that it had sent a letter to the committee answering that question. It was up to the committee to say whether it wanted to divulge the contents of the correspondence.

Given the hardening of attitudes in the past week, it seems unlikely that Sascoc will capitulate that easily, despite rugby and athletics saying they were distancing themselves from the call to boycott the committee meetings.

“Ours is a question of principle,” said Mashishi. “It is not about undermining the authority of Parliament. We are addressing ourselves to the abuse of power and authority and the derogatory and racist statements made by someone who holds an important position. We are saying that we too have rights and expect them to be respected.”

Chuene sang a different tune to Majavu’s this week, saying that he meant it when he called the inquiry appointed by the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee a “kangaroo court”.

“My statement stands and I will not retract it or apologise. What I did was just to clarify to Zola Majavu the context of my statement, which I made in Parliament in front of Sascoc president Moss Mashishi. It was not directed at him because I didn’t even know he was going to chair the inquiry. I have also not apologised to him.”

The next four days should give an indication as to who, from politicians to sports officials, will blink first. The outcome of a cold war between the parties will help establish the rules of engagement between sports governing bodies and politicians.

This week the portfolio committee and the ANC caucus came out in support of Komphela. Committee member Cedrick Frolick accused Sascoc of being “unable to deal with issues of transformation”, saying that it “remains an elitist organisation that is out of touch with ordinary sports organisations. What is important for them is to travel internationally, not the development of sports.”

Johannesburg attorney and specialist in sports law Themba Langa said Sascoc stood to suffer more from the political and financial repercussions of their decisions than the legal implications.

“If Sascoc disagrees that they are dominated by whites and Indians, why don’t they simply show the statistics, which will show that Komphela is wrong.

“By boycotting they are still not answering the question [whether Sascoc is controlled by Indians and whites],” said Langa.

Mashishi said: “We must create a climate of mutual respect and regard that recognises all of our constitutional rights. It does not help to be hurling insults. We are happy to engage in robust debate about the future of sports in this country, but we are saying that there is a line between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour and that line has been crossed.”

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