How athletics body was plundered

As Sascoc announced the suspension of Leonard Chuene and the ASA board, Lucky Sindane reports on internal corruption at the athletics body involving its events manager

Athletics South Africa’s (ASA) events manager, Phiwe Mlangeni-Tsholetsane, stands accused of awarding a lucrative contract to her own company. The allegation comes at a time when ASA’s coffers are running dry and the association is struggling to meet debt obligations.

On Thursday, South Africa’s Olympic governing body, Sascoc, suspended ASA president Leonard Chuene and the ASA board “with immediate effect pending the outcome of a disciplinary investigation and further action” over their handling of the Caster Semenya saga.

Early this week the electricity supply to ASA’s offices was cut off, owing to overdue bills. The Mail & Guardian understands that as of last week its bank balance stood at R2 000.

An investigation by the M&G can reveal that Mlangeni-Tsholetsane is the director of Sequel Experience, a company that has been operating since 2007 and does business with the athletics federation.

Sequel Experience sends bulk cellphone messages to a database of about 15000 athletes, updating them on coming events.

The M&G understands that Mlangeni-Tsholetsane’s company has been paid close to R600 000 for services rendered in the 2009 season.
ASA insiders say that for the Soweto Marathon alone, her company benefited to the tune of about R100 000.

Meanwhile, an ASA official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, revealed that the association owes more than R1,5-million, including prize money for athletes.

The M&G has learned that The High Performance Centre at the University of Pretoria is demanding payment of R497 020, including invoices dating back to 2007.

Race Numbers, a company that manufactures race licence numbers, is owed about R360 000 and Western Province Athletics is owed R60 000.

The ASA official said: “We didn’t even submit audited financial statements during our AGM early this year; all we did was to make a PowerPoint presentation to our members.

“People are putting the money into their pockets. Athletes don’t get their prize money on time because there is no money to pay them. Our officials are crippling the federation and always cover their backs.”

When the M&G first approached Mlangeni-Tsholetsane for comment on the allegations against her, she offered a blanket denial. “I’m not surprised by this because I have been defrauded [sic] before,” she said. “There’s a woman from Gugulethu in Cape Town who pretends to be me; she has my ID number and opens accounts at retail stores and obtains personal loans pretending to be me.

“There is another Phiwe out there. I’ve now been blacklisted and people came to our office recently to confront me about a loan that I took. But I have reported the matter to the police and have documents to prove my case, which I will send to you in a short while.”

But the saga took another twist when the M&G called Mlangeni-Tsholetsane again to request contact details about Sequel Experience. She confessed that she is indeed the company’s owner, but claimed that the correct procedures were followed when she was awarded the contract.

She said: “I am part of the Sequel Experience that provides the bulk SMS service to ASA. I’m the signatory on the account.

“The process [whereby] this company became a supplier [was] as per ASA procurement procedures. Three quotations were compared and Sequel was the cheapest. I, with my former secretary, got those three quotes and I felt that Sequel was the cheapest and therefore I awarded the contract to my company.”

Mlangeni-Tsholetsane conceded that her involvement in Sequel Experience had not been declared to ASA, “and that was a blunder from my side”, she said.

“I didn’t see anything wrong with it because I was providing good service. ASA will follow the right procedures and discipline me if necessary. I have two partners in this business and they are not registered, but I will not reveal their names because I want to face the music alone,” she said.

It has come to the M&G‘s attention that immediately after the newspaper questioned ASA general manager Molatelo Malehopo about his knowledge of the company he “suspended” Mlangeni-Tsholetsane. In an effort to undermine the M&G‘s story, ASA leaked it to Sapa before the paper went to print.

“They want to make the story weak because it impacts negatively on them. They are senior managers and claim to not know what is happening within the federation. People should dig deep into ASA—and there is more to come,” said the senior official.

When the M&G tried to photograph Mlangeni-Tsholetsane on Wednesday this week, ASA management phoned the association’s security company, Protea Coin, which threatened to confiscate and break the camera.

Announcing Chuene’s suspension after a special meeting of its legal and arbitration commission into the handling of the Semenya saga on Thursday, Sascoc said that Sascoc board member Ray Mali would take over as the administrator of ASA. Mali would convene an urgent meeting of the ASA council to elect an interim board for the association.

Sascoc also said it was considering “appropriate action” against the IAAF for its disregard of Semenya’s privacy rights.

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