Johannesburg — A proposed lucrative sponsorship deal between South Africa and a top English football club that sparked a two-day firestorm of protest will not be backed by President Cyril Ramaphosa, his spokesman said Friday.
Plans by SA Tourism agency to sponsor Tottenham Hotspur were unveiled this week — at a time when record power cuts have wreaked havoc across the nation and citizens battle rising food and fuel costs.
“We do not think spending so much money in the manner that is being suggested will be justified,” presidential spokesman Vincent Magwenya told AFP, adding Ramaphosa had not been briefed on the matter.
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Plans for the sponsorship, said to be worth almost R1 billion ($58 million), were first reported by the Daily Maverick.
The report this week caused uproar in the blackout-ridden country, with many arguing the money would be better spent elsewhere.
“Why would people want to holiday in a nation with no water and electricity,” wrote Twitter user @MzansiIndian03, adding the money could be used to “protect infrastructure” instead.
Manny de Freitas, a lawmaker with the opposition Democratic Alliance party, said the deal was “a slap in the face of every South African”, and suggested the funds should be used “to buy diesel to alleviate” power cuts.
At a press conference on Thursday, SA Tourism chief executive Themba Khumalo defended the plan, which won preliminary approval by the agency’s board, saying returns would dwarf costs.
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The deal was aimed at attracting foreign currency and visitors to boost the country’s battered tourism industry, which has not fully recovered since the coronavirus pandemic, the agency said.
Under the plan, SA Tourism branding would appear on the high-flying Premier League side’s kit.
Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, a political foe of Ramaphosa, also distanced herself from the proposal, denying reports she had been the driving force behind it.
“Minister Sisulu is still awaiting for a report and to be briefed,” a ministry statement said Wednesday.