21 April 2024 | 01:00 AM

Corruption in the ABC Motsepe League – internal report lifts the lid on SAFA intrigue

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Key Takeaways

  • The South African Football Association uncovered a match-fixing syndicate in the 2016 ABC Motsepe League play-offs.
  • Now an internal report exposes the cheating and names names ahead of a long-delayed criminal trial.
  • It also shows SAFA did not fully follow its own recommendations by failing to make an example of those who engineered the plot.

The South African Football Association’s (SAFA) tough talk on tackling corruption is at odds with its actions in dealing with the problem – at least in one case.

SAFA claims it is “committed to the promotion of fair play, integrity and the eradication of maladministration, match fixing and corruption in football”.

But the association’s response to its own internal investigation into what seems to be a blatant case of graft in the ABC Motsepe League – and its failure to adjust how it runs the amateur league – raise questions about SAFA’s willingness and capability to combat match fixing.

The ABC Motsepe League is the third of the five tiers that make up South African football. The first two tiers – the premier division (DStv Premiership) and the national first division (Motsepe Foundation Championship) – are the professional wings and they are governed by the Premier Soccer League (PSL). SAFA is in charge of the amateur structures. The three tiers that SAFA manages are the ABC Motsepe League which is followed by the Regional Leagues (formerly SAB League) and lastly the Local Football Associations.

The ABC Motsepe League is the bridge between amateur and professional football, where most of the money and attention (in the form of scouts and media coverage) is concentrated. The league is marred by controversy and accusations of corruption.

“The reason for corruption is greed,” SAFA interim integrity officer Alex Abercrombie told amaBhungane. “Money changes hands. It may be to win a competition, or a play-off to gain promotion to a higher league where big money is paid for participating in that higher league and where players can be sold for huge sums of money.”

In 2017, an internal SAFA investigation uncovered an alleged match fixing syndicate that was set up to help Limpopo club Magesi FC gain promotion in the ABC Motsepe League play-offs that were held in Bloemfontein from 13-19 June 2016. The club did in fact win those play-offs and was promoted to the first division where they were relegated straight back to the amateur league after just one season.

The investigation was led by SAFA’s then national integrity officer Mlungisi Ncame.

According to evidence in his report, based largely on testimony of those implicated, SAFA’s head of referees at the time, Peter Sejake, “corruptly mandated” fellow referee and “homeboy” Bafana Mosia to lead the plot to help Magesi gain promotion.

AmaBhungane is in possession of testimonies that allege that Mosia, through the instruction of Sejake, helped Magesi during the provincial leg of the ABC Motsepe League.

SAFA uncovered a match-fixing syndicate engineered to help Magesi FC win the 2016 ABC Motsepe League playoffs.(photo sourced from SAFA Twitter page)

The amateur league is divided into nine divisions in each of the country’s nine provinces. Each of those nine divisions has a 16-team league. The winners of the nine provincial leagues advance to the play-offs where they are separated into two groups. The teams that top those groups gain promotion to the first division.

The plan, execution and blow-up  

According to the report, Mosia was first approached by Sejake about this plot at Dobsonville Stadium during a Banyana Banyana match. Sejake is alleged to have promised Mosia promotion to the FIFA panel of referees, who officiate international matches, if he carried out the mandate. He agreed and was taken to a house in Kempton Park where he was introduced to Magesi FC owner Solomon Makhubela.

To help Magesi achieve their objective, Mosia is alleged to have then roped in five more officials – fellow referee Shane Chuma along with assistant referees Stevens Khumalo, Ernest Nyambi, Linos Hobwane and Peter Chauke.

Hobwane made news in 2017 when he was found guilty of lying under oath and providing false information in a match report. He claimed he was kicked in the ankle by an AmaZulu player during a heated moment in a DStv Premiership match against Baroka. He was banned for two years by SAFA as punishment.

According to Ncame’s report, Chauke, a private investigator by profession, decided to volunteer information to the investigation “because he realises that match-fixing is wrong and he does not want to have anything to do with it”.

Nyambi testified that he was approached by Mosia who promised he could get him to be a part of the referees who would officiate the play-offs. Nyambi said he was excited about this prospect as this would be the first time he would officiate in the play-offs.

Nyambi claimed that a week after Mosia called him, he was invited to the Serengeti Estate in Kempton Park along with Mosia, Chauke, Hobwane and Khumalo where they were introduced to Makhubela and discussed the plan to help Magesi.

The house in question is under the ownership of the Masilo Makhubela Trust. Even though Sejake was not present for that meeting, Nyambi claims that Makhubela confirmed that “Mr Peter Sejake was his man and he would coordinate the scheme.”

Two witnesses who were at that meeting testified that the four officials who were there were given R4 000 each by Makhubela. According to Nyambi, Makhubela told them it was for “fuel”.

Chauke testified that Mosia convened meetings with the five officials every evening during the play-offs “to discuss their performance and relay any instructions from Magesi FC or their agent(s)”.

Magesi FC were grouped with JDR Stars from Gauteng, Northern Cape’s Morester Jeg and Manco Milano of Free State. Magesi thumped Morester Jeg 4-0 in their first match. They then beat Milano 1-0 and JDR 2-1 to secure qualification to the first division. In the final, Magesi FC defeated KwaZulu-Natal side Kings United 5-3 in penalties after the match ended 1-1. The Limpopo side walked away with a R1-million cheque for winning the play-offs.

Mosia and his five accomplices admitted to each receiving R50 000 once the play-offs were finished and Magesi FC had made it through to the first division, though Hobwane claimed not to know why he was given his share. Makhubela handed over the money – R300 000 in total – to the referees at the house in Kempton Park where the plan was hatched.

The only person to outright deny any involvement in the scheme, or knowledge of it, was Sejake. He denied knowing Makhubela or his residential address, but a visitor’s log book at the Serengeti Estate showed that he came there a couple of times – including in the evening.

All those implicated in the scheme, including Makhubela, refused to comment when amaBhungane reached out to them. Sejake said he could not talk on the matter as its sub judice, while one of the referees told amaBhungane “never call me ever again in your life”.

The blow-up of this scheme came towards the end of 2016 when SAFA announced the referees who would be in the FIFA panel. SAFA promoted referees Thando Ndzandzeka and Chris Harrison into the panel that Khumalo and Chauke were already a part of.

Mosia did not make the cut, contrary to the promise allegedly made to him.

Mosia says in the report he confronted Sejake about the snub at the former head of referees’ offices at SAFA House in the presence of Tebogo Motlanthe, who was the association’s legal officer at the time and is currently their CEO.

Motlanthe corroborated Mosia’s story about the confrontation, and revealed that he once found Mosia at Sejake’s house, despite Sejake saying he had never met with Mosia outside of working hours.

Motlanthe also revealed that as far back as 2015 he had reported his concerns about Sejake to SAFA’s security officer, but was shocked when the man, who resigned from SAFA in 2016, immediately fed the information back to Sejake.

Punishing the whistleblower

SAFA’s internal investigation made several recommendations that it said should be “concluded expeditiously”.

Among its recommendations was that Sejake be suspended and the matter reported to the police. In 2017, he and the association parted ways following his suspension.

Although the report recommended that decisions to suspend or prosecute “must be made known to the public in order to set an example and encourage others to report match fixing”, SAFA was coy about this incident and did not divulge any details behind Sejake’s departure.

Motlanthe was sent a list of detailed questions about this investigation, his testimony, the association’s action, and lack thereof. These questions included why SAFA did not divulge why they parted ways with Sejake as recommended by the report. Motlanthe, instead, passed on the questions to Abercrombie.

“I do not know whether he [Sejake] was fired on allegations of match fixing or whether he resigned before the hearing but whatever the facts might be, one must recognise that the employee/employer relationship is confidential and private,” Abercrombie, who was appointed to the post in 2020, told amaBhungane.

When asked what SAFA did to clean the rot that was uncovered by the investigation, Abercrombie came to the association’s defence. “There were disciplinary charges brought and dealt with at different levels as well as reporting the matter to the Hawks. SAFA is not implicated in the rot as you put it. One ex-employee is implicated and is now before the court where SAFA is the complainant,” he said.

The report notes that the other six implicated officials were suspended and charged administratively by SAFA in April 2017. Three – Chauke, Mosia and Khumalo – pleaded guilty and Chauke and Mosia offered to cooperate with a criminal investigation.

But, inexplicably, all six, together with Sejake and Makhubela, have been criminally charged for corruption. Their case is now before the Kempton Park magistrate’s court.

Initially it was only the alleged ringleaders Mosia, Sejake and Makhubela who were charged as confirmed by a letter from the then deputy director of public prosecutions in Gauteng, Riegal Du Toit on 4 May 2018.

There were unexplained postponements in the case despite the availability of co-operating witnesses and in March 2020 the magistrate ordered an investigation into the delays.

In another letter dated 28 October 2020, Du Toit writes that the “Senior Public Prosecutor is … authorised to exercise his own discretion to charge or add any suspect(s) in the case as he deems fit.”

It seems that letter opened the door for charging everyone, whether or not this was the best legal strategy.

There is no explanation why the other officials, including the whistleblower Chauke, were now also charged along with the three initiators of the alleged plot. The lawyer of the five more junior officials, Mandla Tshabalala, confirmed that they were not initially charged.

SAFA’s report recommended that Chauke be exempted from prosecution by the association in terms of the Whistleblowing Policy of SAFA and the Protected Disclosures Act.

“The senior prosecutor told us that they have enough evidence to prosecute all eight,” SAFA’s Abercrombie said.  “When the matter was being looked at again by the NPA [National Prosecuting Authority], we reached out to the referees and asked them if they wanted to be state witnesses as that’s how they would really have been protected. They refused. They told us that they have their own lawyer. I didn’t want to interfere on the matter so I left it at that.”

While the team gets a free pass 

Though Makhubela is facing charges in court, the internal investigation had also recommended that disciplinary action be taken by SAFA against him and Magesi FC, but the association did not do this. The Limpopo club is back in the first division for the 2022/23 season which kicked off in September.

Yet, in May this year SAFA’s Mopani region handed out life bans to four clubs who were involved in questionable scores in Limpopo. These bans came after reports that Matisayi FC beat Nsami Mighty Birds 59-1 and Shivulani Dangerous Tigers beat Kotoko Happy Boys 33-1 in the final round of matches in the ABC Motsepe League.

Advocate Tiyani Vukeya, who represented Matisayi and Nsami in their appeal, claims there was no evidence brought against the two teams that they had indeed fixed the match apart from just flagging the irregular scorelines.

According to Abercrombie, who is also a former acting judge, the standard of proof required in all integrity matters at the association “shall be to the ‘comfortable satisfaction’ of the tribunal, which has been defined as being greater than the mere ‘balance of probability’ but less than the criminal standard of proof ‘beyond reasonable doubt’.”

SAFA Mopani president Vincent Ramphago refused to comment on Vukeya’s allegation, citing that the matter was sub judice. But he was adamant that SAFA had to act and they could not allow people who “manufactured scores” to get away with this. This matter is currently in arbitration after the clubs won on appeal.

SAFA’s different response to the Magesi FC matter shows inconsistencies in dealing with this problem.

When asked why SAFA did not fully follow the recommendations of its own internal investigation, Dennis Mumble, who was CEO in 2017 but left SAFA in 2018, said he did not want to comment on the specific case as he had left the organisation.

Abercrombie told amaBhungane: “I do not know whether there was any evidence which implicated the club [Magesi], but the owner is before the court as well.”

“SAFA is determined to wipe out match manipulation and to that end have put in place the policies and structures to combat match manipulation,” he said.

But Mumble argues that corruption in the league will persist because there is no political will at SAFA to seriously tackle it and because the structural and financial challenges of the league makes it fertile ground for corruption.

Win at all costs

​​“Back in 2011 in Limpopo, some guys said to us that we know some clubs who budget for bribery,” Mumble told amaBhungane.

“Because for them if they have a budget of a R1-million for their club, and they budget half a million for buying officials and favours, it’s an investment they make for a potential gain of millions if they get promoted. And that really is the sad reality of that league.”

Mumble was among those who helped set up the amateur league in 1998.

He arrived at SAFA in 1997 as general manager, at a time when South African football was at a crossroads. The National Soccer League had morphed into the PSL in 1996 and it rebranded the domestic league. The same year Bafana Bafana won the Africa Cup of Nations on home soil. But there were warning signs. The Pickard Commission, whose report was released in 1997, exposed the rot that those early successes hid.

The commission found that SAFA had “emasculated itself” in favour of an offshore marketing company, Awesome Sports International, which gained control of SAFA’s television, marketing and sponsorship rights in a contract which granted SAFA a relatively meagre income in return.

That meant projects like the amateur league were underfunded from the start.

SAFA is now fully in charge of its commercial affairs, but due to reputational damage it has suffered over the years because of numerous scandals it has struggled to get sponsors.

“Part of the reason why companies are not eager to buy into SAFA products is because of the reputational issue,” Mumble told amaBhungane. “[This] is a perception that SAFA itself is not coming to grips with… [They] fall back on this bogeyman that it’s because it’s a majority Black sport and that’s why sponsors aren’t coming on board. Those excuses are too convenient… We have to find better ways of marketing the product, by bringing on people who are able to put the product out there.”

The ABC Motsepe League now has 144 clubs competing in it. And that’s where the problem starts – having 144 poorly financed teams fighting for two places for a lucrative promotion.

There are huge financial disparities between the ABC Motsepe League and professional football.

According to Sgwili Gumede, a former footballer who is executive director of sports finance research company Sport Boardroom, the rough minimum value of clubs in the premier ranges between R50-million to R60-million. This is based on the clubs that have been sold in the last couple of years.

Clubs in the premier division receive monthly grants of R2.5-million and before the start of every season they get a once-off R5.5-million preparatory grant.

According to Gumede, a rough estimate of a club in the first division ranges between R10-million and R15-million. In this division clubs get R750 000 monthly grants and a once-off R1.5-million before the start of every season.

A well-established ABC Motsepe League club that regularly does well in its provincial games and can fight in the play-offs is valued at around R1-million.

Here there are no grants, but clubs are paid a meagre travel allowance of R30 000 per season in two instalments.

Of the R9-million that the Motsepe Foundation pays towards the amateur league in each season, R1.25-million is set aside for the winner’s cheque, with the runners up getting R600 000.

The top eight teams in each province also receive payments that range from R50 000 for the winners and R15 000 to the eighth-placed team in provincial leagues.

“What happens is that when someone looks at it purely from an economic perspective, if I get promoted from the second division [ABC Motsepe League] to the first division, I would literally increase the value of my team by around R14-million,” Mumble said.

“What happens is that people will fall over themselves to make sure that they end up in good positions to be promoted. And so the whole environment lends itself to people looking for shortcuts… From a purely economic standpoint, unless there are better incentives in the second division – my view is that that problem may persist.”

Poorly paid referees

The financial disparities do not end there.

A referee in the ABC Motsepe League is paid between R750 and R800 per match, and they have to share that money with their two assistants.

“We used to have one stream when I was officiating in Limpopo, and if you know the province you know that it’s vast,” said a former referee who spoke to amaBhungane on condition of anonymity.

“If you are from Venda for instance, and have to officiate a game in Bakenberg [which is almost 300km away], you can just see how much we travelled. I think we were paid R500 [at that time]. And there are three of you who have to share that money, and also pay for the car for the trip. The whole money ends up going to the driver of the car because it was not enough…At times we would go home with nothing because of what that money had to cover.”

In the premier division, a referee is paid R6 497 per match with an assistant referee earning R5 064, and R5 392 for a match commissioner. For officiating in the first division, referees earn R5 064 with assistant referees getting R3 344 and match commissioners get R5 301.

In 2018, SAFA president Danny Jordaan raised concerns about the amounts that referees in the ABC Motsepe League were being paid and the model of payment – where the hosting club pays the referee.

“To avoid tempting our match officials, we must pay our referees on time and their full amount. We also need programmes that will help referees beyond their retirement time,” Jordaan said at the SAFA National Integrity workshop in Sandton.

Four years later, SAFA have not fully honoured this pledge.

Abercrombie is clearly aware of the problem: “In so far as the ABC Motsepe league is concerned it must be noted that this league is a very competitive league and more particularly the play-offs. Club owners want to win at all costs as winning can be very rewarding. We have received many complaints of what appears to be incorrect decisions by match officials but to prove match manipulation is another thing,” he told amaBhungane.

The financial challenges of running the league only worsen matters.

Mumble claims that SAFA needs at least R20-million a season to be able to properly manage the ABC Motsepe League. That is R11-million more than what the Motsepe Foundation pays the association, which has left SAFA having to find other avenues to cover the shortfall. And this leads to shortcuts and cutbacks in key administrative areas.

Mumble offers an example of this.

“For instance, you end up in a situation where you are not going to be able to afford match commissioners. Match commissioners serve as virtual integrity officers for any league. Match commissioners perform a vital function in the organisation of the league because not only do they perform administrative functions to make sure that everything around a match is organised properly, but they also look at the performance of the referee.

“Because that comes with a cost, the ABC Motsepe League couldn’t afford match commissioners consistently? So you found yourself plugging a gap, and sending them only in matches where you suspect that there is something wrong,” says Mumble.

This raises the question: would better and more equitable funding be the answer to ending corruption in the league? It might help, but there are basic administrative problems within SAFA that create a permissive environment for corruption.

For starters, the two numbers it has on its website to report corruption in the league do not work. In fact, the toll-free hotline they have on their website has 11 digits instead of 10. When this was put to SAFA, Abercrombie responded by saying that the correct number is 0800777228. That mistake has not been fixed on the website.

This might seem like a small and inconsequential matter, but SAFA’s administrative bungles have hamstrung the league.

These bungles include repeated instances where referees do not arrive on time for some matches (or when they arrive they are not the full complement of three), regular delays of the start of the league because of issues like the late arrival of playing cards and late payments of the travel grant.

The league’s prize money will increase from R1-million to R3-million in the 2022/23 season. The league’s sponsor, Patrice Motsepe, made the announcement in the final of this year’s play-offs.

That increase will not address the financial issues of the league.

The money will still be saturated at the top instead of spreading it evenly so that running a club in the ABC Motsepe League is not such a financially exhausting exercise with little or no return. The pessimistic outlook in this increase is that it might actually increase the corruption scourge as there is now a bigger pot to fight for without necessarily addressing the structural issues in the league.

“It’s probably going to get worse before it gets better,” Mumble said.

The ABC Motsepe League is a vital element of South African football. It has the widest reach both in terms of players and also location, with a number of the clubs coming from rural areas and townships – unlike in professional football where most of the clubs are based in urban and affluent neighbourhoods.

“The cost of corruption is huge insofar as the development of our football is concerned and it does impact heavily on money,” Abercrombie said.

“If match fixing and corrupt betting activities are perceived to be prevalent in SAFA, it will not attract sponsors, and this will have an adverse effect on the development of the game. The public will not attend matches as the outcome will be predetermined and mediocre players may be part of the clubs that gain promotion (unfairly) and play in higher leagues with the result that football standards deteriorate. The integrity of the game of football in South Africa must be protected.”

Who exactly the seemingly self-defeating strategy in the Kempton Park Magistrates Court will provide protection to – that remains to be seen

INVESTIGATOR:

Njabulo Ngidi

Njabulo has spent more than a decade in journalism. The bulk of that period was spent writing about South African football. He is driven by the desire to tell stories that go beyond the athlete, but show the person behind the athlete.

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