Fikile Mbalula. Picture: THE TIMES
Fikile Mbalula. Picture: THE TIMES

Former sports minister Fikile Mbalula violated the constitution by asking a supplier to SA’s main Olympics body to pay towards a family holiday costing more than R500,000, the public protector has found. 

Busisiwe Mkhwebane said he also violated the Executive Ethics Act by letting Sedgars Sport, a supplier to the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc), fund some of the 2016 trip.

Mbalula, who is now head of the ANC’s elections office, has previously denied any wrongdoing and said he funded the trip himself. He could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. Sedgars has also previously denied any wrongdoing.

On Wednesday, Mkhwebane found that Mbalula had gone without paying for the trip first and seemingly had no idea how much it would cost.

She said that this was "very irresponsible of him as he could not determine whether he could afford" it.

"What was peculiar about it is that neither Mr Mbalula, his family or his office arranged for the trip," Mkhwebane said.

"His conduct in travelling to Dubai without paying for the trip exposed him to the risk of conflict between his official responsibilities and his private family interests."

Months after returning, he still had not paid the bill and was confronted by debt collectors for the travel agent who had booked the luxurious trip, which included first-class flights.

The public protector said Mbalula told her that he had turned to his friend Yusuf Dockrat, the director of Sedgars Sport, and they concluded a "loan agreement" to help him pay for the trip, which cost more than R684,000. Sedgars Sport provided the uniforms worn by Team SA at the Olympics.

Dockrat then paid R300,000 to the travel agency on behalf of Mbalula.

Mkhwebane said there is evidence that Mbalula paid back R275,000. "There is, however, no evidence in my possession that proves that Mr Mbalula requested and/or obtained the loan prior to boarding a flight to Dubai," Mkhwebane said. "What is peculiar about this loan agreement is that it was entered into after the fact and when Mr Mbalula could not pay for the trip when demands were made by the travel agent for payment."

She did not believe there was a loan agreement between the pair, even though Mbalula did repay almost all of the money.

"Had the transaction not been reported in the media, Mr Mbalula would not have repaid the funds," Mkhwebane said. She said it was "inappropriate" for Mbalula to enter into a loan agreement with Dockrat, "a director of an entity doing business with Sascoc".

She did not accept an argument by Mbalula that suggested he had sought the money from Dockrat as a friend, not a person who owned a business that supplied Sascoc. "There is absolutely no way that he could have a friend for 20 years and not know what kind of business he is running."

She did not recommend any remedial action against Mbalula "as he is no longer a member of the executive" but asked the National Prosecuting Authority to investigate "whether the funds used to pay for Mr Mbalula’s trip were not the proceeds of money laundering". She asked the Financial Intelligence Centre to investigate the source of the R150,000 in cash that was used to pay part of Mbalula’s bill.