/ 9 May 2023

De Lille addresses SA Tourism shake-up: ‘Nobody’s indispensable’

De Lille Tables Plan To Clean Up Public Works Dept
Recently-appointed Tourism Minister Patricia de Lille says she took on the role to “clean up” the department, in the wake of the recent R1 billion Tottenham Hotspur sponsorship scandal.

Recently-appointed Tourism Minister Patricia de Lille says she took on the role to “clean up” the department, in the wake of the recent R1 billion Tottenham Hotspur sponsorship scandal.

“I’m like a broom in South Africa,” De Lille said on Tuesday. “I sweep clean, so I saw it as another broom exercise, where I need to go clean up. And that is exactly what I started doing.”

De Lille was speaking at Africa’s Travel Indaba in Durban, where she addressed the Tottenham Hotspur debacle, which attracted a storm of public criticism. The conference took place just days after Themba Khumalo, the acting chief executive of the entity at the centre of the scandal, suddenly resigned.

In January it emerged, through a Daily Maverick investigation, that South African Tourism — the state’s official national marketing agency — was preparing to ink an almost R1 billion deal to sponsor the English football club. 

It was reported that Khumalo was pushing for the deal, which would commit the entity to £42.5 million over three years, to be concluded before the end of March, in other words before the end of the financial year. 

But the deal was cancelled on De Lille’s advice. President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed De Lille to the portfolio earlier in March, a move that saw him replacing one of his biggest rivals in the ruling ANC — Lindiwe Sisulu.

Last month, De Lille dissolved SA Tourism’s board, citing serious allegations against its members. Eight of the 11 board members, including chairperson Thozamile Botha, have resigned since 7 April. 

De Lille decided to move on the board after Khumalo submitted a memorandum asking her to “terminate” it to avoid further damage to its image over a sexual harassment scandal. The contents of the memorandum — which was also sent to Sisulu on her last day in office — and the furore over the Tottenham deal are understood to have convinced De Lille to dissolve the board and appoint a new one, the Mail & Guardian reported last month.

Addressing Khumalo’s resignation, De Lille said: “Nobody’s indispensable, by the way — you or me. We’re not indispensable. And there are many good South Africans, professional South Africans, that could take up that post immediately. I wish him well in his future endeavours.”

Nomasonto Ndlovu was appointed to replace Khumalo as acting chief executive of SA Tourism, which is now chaired by former Wesgro boss Tim Harris.

Notwithstanding SA Tourism’s governance issues, De Lille is tasked with reviving one of the industries worst-hit by the pandemic. Covid-related travel restrictions saw the number of non-resident visitors slump from 14.8 million in 2019 to only 3.9 million in 2020.  

As a result of the decline in the number of visitors to the country, inbound tourism expenditure fell by 70.5% in 2020 compared with 2019, according to Statistics South Africa. Domestic tourism expenditure also decreased in 2020, with resident visitors spending 32.8% less than they did in 2019.

Tourism contributes about 3.7% to the country’s GDP and, in 2022, 5.7 million tourists visited South Africa. The government hopes to welcome 21 million tourists to the country by 2030 and to boost the industry’s contribution to the economy to 10%.

De Lille said she hopes to lift tourism’s profile as an economic enabler so that she can eventually petition the government for a bigger budget. “We can’t be sitting with a budget of just over R3 billion,” she said.                                              

The journalist is a guest of South African Tourism at Africa’s Travel Indaba