/ 2 February 2023

UPDATED: Three SA Tourism board members resign amidst R1bn investment in Tottenham Hotspur controversy

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Whether it is this initiative or any other initiative, SA Tourism says it will still spend about R1 billion on marketing on foreign soil. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Three members of the South African Tourism board resigned with immediate effect, days after a proposed sponsorship deal of just under R1 billion with English soccer club Tottenham Hotspur came to light. 

Enver Duminy, Ravi Nadasen, who both served the board for three terms, and Rosemary Anderson, handed in their resignations, SA Tourism confirmed in a statement on Saturday. 

Tourism Minister, Lindiwe Sisulu, accepted the members’ resignations and thanked them for their service.

Aubrey Mhlongo, chairperson of the board, expressed his gratitude towards the three members. 

“As the board, we extend our sincere gratitude to Mr Duminy, Mr Nadasen and Ms.

Anderson for their invaluable contribution to the South African Tourism Board during

their tenure and we wish them well in their future endeavours. We would like to thank

these members for their contribution and oversight of the entity during their time while

serving on the board,” said Mhlongo.

According to Sisulu, a process to appoint suitable replacements is underway.

The resignations follow days after SA Tourism and the tourism department have been criticised after the proposed deal with the London-based football team was made public in a Daily Maverick news article, which cited a power presentation containing details of a 36-month partnership worth  £42.5 million. 

On Thursday, acting chief executive, Themba Khumalo, rejected suggestions that a contract had been signed between the two parties. 

He rebuffed the Daily Maverick’s assertion that the proposed media sponsor “was on the verge of being finalised” with Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu “allegedly eager for the deal to be sealed before the impending cabinet reshuffle by President Cyril Ramaphosa moves her out of the tourism portfolio”.

Khumalo said Sisulu had been unaware of the initiative because it was yet to be approved by the SA Tourism board. He did confirm that the proposed marketing initiative had been  conditionally approved by the SA Tourism board after a Tuesday evening meeting.

Although the board’s decision is still an internal document, “the condition was we believe that this makes commercial sense, but can you go and align with all stakeholders, including the minister, the director-general, treasury and provinces”, Khumalo explained.

“The version of the story that you have been told is not true. It was leaked out of context. This whole thing could have been avoided if we just had a conversation about why we are doing this. The intent of the leak was not to aid economic recovery of the country,” he added.

He said regardless of whether it was through the controversial deal “or through any other initiative, we are still going to spend in that region of investment on foreign soil to get international travellers to travel into [South Africa]”.

Khumalo noted that the goal stated by President Cyril Ramaphosa was to have 21 million travellers entering South Africa by 2030, up from the current 5.6 million annual arrivals.

“If we continue with small campaigns like in the past — all over the place —  we will not meet the target,” he added.

Investing nearly R1 billion in one initiative means that the department will use 36% of its budget allocated to promoting tourism. 

The United Kingdom accounts for about 530 000 visitors to South Africa each year, Khumalo said, adding that combined with the United States the proposed investment would generate an income of R88 billion.

“It will enable job creation, sustain SME’s [small and medium enterprises] and be able to return the dignity of a better life to our people,” he said.

On Thursday, labour federation Cosatu slammed the proposed sponsorship as “an insult to struggling workers and taxpayers” and “a misguided vanity project” that would not contribute to “fixing the ailing tourism industry that has not only suffered from Covid-19 but is also sabotaged by electricity cuts and high crime levels”.

Civil rights organisation AfriForum has served the tourism department with a legal letter demanding clarity on where the R1 billion will come from and whether the department had considered “the current socio-economic challenges faced by South African citizens”

*This story has been updated