Sport and Recreation Minister Fikile Mbalula tried to keep details of the Fifa scandal from the public by telling former World Cup local organising committee (LOC) members not to give interviews and to hand evidence to his department.
The directive is contained in a letter Mbalula signed on June 1, the day after Sunday papers confirmed that South Africa paid $10-million ostensibly for football development. A United States indictment alleges the money was a bribe for Caribbean football boss Jack Warner and two associates to vote for South Africa to host the 2010 World Cup.
The scandal broke days earlier when Swiss police arrested seven Fifa executives and the US justice department released the indictment that charges football officials and business people internationally with corruption.
Mbalula’s letter highlights how government attempted to manage the local fallout by making him its sole spokesperson and plugging alternative information streams, even from those who knew best.
The tactic was taken to the extreme when the ANC in Parliament voted down an opposition proposal to summon LOC officials for their version of events and resolved to call Mbalula instead.
Mbalula’s letter refers to a meeting he had had with some members of the LOC, which comprised football, government, business and labour representatives, and had organised the 2010 tournament on behalf of the South African Football Association (Safa) and Fifa.
AmaBhungane understands that the crisis meeting took place in Johannesburg on Sunday May 31, four days after the Swiss arrests sparked the scandal. Those understood to have attended include former LOC chair Irvin Khoza and chief executive Danny Jordaan, as well as former Safa president Molefi Oliphant.
That morning, the Sunday Independent and Sunday Times published the first confirmation that the LOC had paid the $10-million, lending credibility to the US allegation.
The former quoted Jordaan acknowledging the payment, but insisting it was genuinely for football development in the Caribbean.
Mbalula said in his letter, addressed to LOC members who had not attended the meeting, that he was writing to tell them of the outcomes “to ensure that the view and position of the government of the Republic of South Africa on the alleged bribery is neither diluted nor compromised by those who may think that they are obliged to respond to media enquiries on the matter”.
The meeting, he wrote, had resolved that all former LOC members – and, extraordinarily, “any citizens of the Republic” – “should desist from making comments to the media” and “afford the government an opportunity to deal with this matter”.
Before concluding that “those approached for comments should therefore direct all enquiries” to his ministry, Mbalula wrote: “We hereby direct that those who wish to provide any information that they may have in their possession should provide same to the ministry and department of sport and recreation, South Africa.”
Mbalula did not reply to questions this week about whether the directive amounted to a cover-up and an attempt to hide evidence to which both the public and investigative authorities were entitled.
Some notable exceptions apart, journalists probing the South African part of the Fifa scandal have been met with repeat refusals to comment from former LOC and Safa officials.
Meanwhile, new evidence contradicts a key plank of Mbalula’s and, separately in a written statement, Safa’s defence.
Both claimed the $10-million could not have been a bribe as it was paid in 2008, four years after the May 2004 Fifa executive vote that won South Africa the right to host the 2010 World Cup.
In an article published on his website last month, former 2010 bid company board member Kaizer Nyatsumba recalled that, shortly before the 2004 Fifa vote, the board was informed that Warner had asked for a “pledge to contribute funds for football development in his region or country in return for votes”.
The bid company, led by Jordaan as chief executive and Khoza as chair, preceded the LOC’s formation.
Nyatsumba said he was “deeply uncomfortable” and spoke out against it. “In the end, the board turned down Warner’s reported request, and that was the last time that I heard about it.”
Nyatsumba has now told ama-Bhungane that it was Khoza who introduced the request to the board. Khoza – perhaps predictably in light of Mbalula’s letter – did not respond to requests for comment.
Confirmation that Warner’s request for “development” funds that were ultimately paid preceded the vote – and evidence that Warner switched allegiance to South Africa shortly before the vote – suggest his request was acceded to by persons in a position of authority at the time, and that it influenced his vote.
In a column this week, former BBC sports editor Mihir Bose recalled meeting Warner in London a few weeks before the vote. He said Warner “was scathing about the South Africans and expressed much admiration for the Moroccan bid. He was so hostile to South Africa he was even refusing to return calls from the South African bid team.
“Everyone knew how crucial Warner was. He controlled three votes on the 24-man executive and could swing the election.”
It is widely accepted that Warner and his two associates voted for South Africa in the end, handing it a 14-10 win – the same margin that Morocco had predicted it would get.
The US indictment alleges that Warner was offered $1-million by Morocco to vote for it, but that “high-ranking officials of Fifa, the South African government and the South African bid committee” then agreed that South Africa would pay $10-million to the Caribbean Football Union to “support the African diaspora”.
The indictment alleges Warner pocketed “a substantial portion” and passed some to fellow Fifa executive Chuck Blazer, who has since turned state witness.
Warner, on bail in his native Trinidad and Tobago after being arrested at the request of the US, has denied wrongdoing. This week he told Trinidadian media he would resist extradition.
“I ain’t running, I ain’t hiding, all I say to them is bring it on and when they bring it on it will be a long hot summer.”
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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.