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JOHANNESBURG — BizNews editor and publisher Alec Hogg interviewed renowned sports journalist Graeme Joffe in 2018 in this special podcast. Joffe tells the story of how he had to go underground and eventually leave South Africa because of the dangers he faced in exposing corruption in SA sport. It’s a fascinating tale that even implicates those in the top echelons of South African society, from corporates to the Zuptas. Take a listen. – Gareth van Zyl
It’s a warm welcome to Graeme Joffe, who’s in the United States. Graeme, it’s a story, a very sad story, but maybe a story that’s having some kind of a happy ending. Let’s go back into your past though. You came into the lives of South Africans as a sportscaster on CNN, the global network. And here was this fellow South African with his accent telling us about the sports news. You presumably had the world at your feet yet you decided, at that point, to come back to your homeland. Why?
Alec, I had an incredible seven years at CNN. It set me up for life. It gave me every experience that I could have wished for in the television industry. Having come from Rhodes University with no TV experience – I was in the right place at the right time. CNN had just started with CNN International so, they needed someone who knew about cricket, soccer, rugby, tennis, golf, and that’s me. Sport is my passion. I played cricket, soccer, and squash for Rhodes University and I love all sport so, I’m kind of a ‘Jack of all trades, and master of none.’ I wanted to come back to SA because Africa was always in my blood. I always knew I wanted to come back just to share my experiences and to be able to hopefully, make a difference. Being on CNN gave me just a real step-up and, as I said, set me up for life. I always wanted to come back. For me to talk about the Atlanta Braves or the Atlanta Falcons, (or Atlanta Hawks are doing well): it’s not the same as me talking about SA succeeding in the sporting field and playing around the world. When I was on CNN and when I mentioned a name like Ernie Els, the Springboks, or Bafana Bafana everyone used to say to me they could see like a little smile come through, and that’s me. When you’ve got Africa in your blood it is very difficult to get out. I’m always going to be a South African.
When you did come home, you started to find that the sporting environment in your homeland was not as squeaky clean as it might have been portrayed, and that, really, was what got you asking questions.
Yes, when I got back I did some work for SuperSport and then I was on the Breakfast Show with Jeremy Mansfield at 94.7 for seven years, really fun times and I just loved it. I did everything. I went to the Sydney Olympic Games. I had just a great time and no regrets for coming back and it was about six years ago, by default, when I went out on my own when that whole, big scandal between the EP Kings and the Lions developed in Super Rugby, and one team had to be relegated. I started digging and it led me to Mark Keohane the rugby reporter who had a vested interest as representing Luke Watson as an unaccredited agent. He was blowing the trumpet for the EP Kings at the demise for the Lions and it just led from one thing to another. Then I saw that he was now the spokesperson for the Olympic Committee of SA, SASCOM, and when I started digging up all this dirt they started to blackmail me and try to fend off where I was going with this whole thing and it snowballed because there’s no culture of investigative sports journalism in SA, and suddenly I became this guy that was prepared to put my head on a block and to dig a little bit more, (and dig), and investigative journalism became an addiction for me. Suddenly; athletes, coaches, and administrators all started to confide in me and it became a big thing. It was fascinating but it made me sick. I would sometimes sit at my desk and have tears in my eyes reading some of the stories, how corrupt the sports administrators can be in SA, and the only ones that are suffering at the end of the day are the athletes.
You talk about the ‘Sports Mafia,’ just unpack that for us?
Wow, that’s not easy to unpack, Alec. It comes from the very top. It comes from Zuma to the Guptas, to the Olympic Committee of SA, to the Sports Ministry that goes back quite a long time but Fikile Mbalula made it into another really, dirty organisation, if it wasn’t dirty already. It filters all the way down. You’ve got all these dirty marketing companies, you’ve got these dirty sporting federations, and really, the Olympic Committee of SA is extremely corrupt. You have all this lottery money – you’ve got these people that are well-connected to the lottery agencies and you’ve got these people putting in these false applications and millions and millions from the National Lottery that are going into peoples’ back pockets. I give the idea of the SA Football Museum, which has probably got about R15m over the last five-years, and it doesn’t exist. This is money that is going into peoples’ back pockets. You’ve got the SA, it’s called SAGPO, this voluntary organisation of SET principles that get R20m every year for a sports project that doesn’t exist. It’s amazing how they’re getting away with it and I’m hopeful now that the wheel is starting to turn but when you talk about the Sports Mafia it is systemic corruption that starts from the very top and goes all the way down in SA sport and it’s amazing what these guys have got away with.
Are the wheels starting to turn? We see that a guy like Tubby Reddy, who’s the SASCOC CEO that you boxed with quite a lot. I think you can tell us a little bit more about the legal challenges. He is now being charged. Others are starting to have fingers pointed at them. Is there enough evidence yet that as in other parts of the SA economy, in the sporting field those who have corrupted are being brought to account?
Alec, I can only hope that the wheel is turning. This recent development of the firing of Tubby Reddy, the SASCOC CEO, the CFO, Vinesh Maharaj, and a senior executive member being Jean Kelly. You’ve got to believe that this maybe the start of it all. Tubby Reddy has got to be one of the dirtiest men in SA sport and I say that with facts, and information. When they sued me four years ago for defamation in my personal capacity, for R21.1m. All they were trying to do was to cripple me financially, to try and bully me to silence me and, also to make sure that other SA sports journalists didn’t try and go the same route and it worked. It was just a lone crusade. It was hard and it was lonely, but that made me more determined to expose him and it was just, to this day, I’m still very annoyed and I’m very aggravated and I’m still looking at possibly taking legal action against Hollard, who were the insurance company because I had personal indemnity and they took on the case for me against SASCOC, and they eventually settled after four years of taking no instruction from me. It really just disappoints me because there’s so much that needs to be done in corporate SA to bring these other people to book and everyone needs to work together. To make sure that it’s a cleaner and a better SA for all the sportsmen and women who, right now, are long suffering due to the administrators who are just so corrupt and there’s so much nepotism and maladministration that it’s actually sick.
Graeme, let’s just unpack then perhaps, the whole SASCOC story. This is an organisation, the SA Olympic Committee, that you were writing about and they sued you and they wanted, as you are now saying, to shut you up. But if those who pushed forward the legal suit are themselves being exposed and themselves being attacked – surely a few apologies might be coming your way soon?
Alec, these guys have got such thick skins they never apologise, to be honest, but the split now that they have in SASCOC is a good thing because Tubby Reddy and the president, Gideon Sam, don’t see eye-to-eye. Tubby Reddy has been trying to get Gideon Sam out for years. It was a while ago where he pushed for Irvin Khoza to be the president and he wasn’t even nominated by his own federation so Tubby Reddy is extremely devious. Him and Vinesh Maharaj, the CFO, have been running SASCOC like their own, personal business for years, and they’ve done the same with volleyball. Tubby Reddy has been the president of Volleyball SA unconstitutionally, for I don’t know how many years, and Vinesh Maharaj is the CFO. There are so many conflicts of interest and they’ve pretty much run volleyball into the ground in SA. If you look at the facts, when last have we had a volleyball team at the Olympics representing SA? The key to the matter was that when they sued me I was working, at the time, for News24, and the Citizen so, they didn’t sue those publications. They sued me in my personal capacity. News24 is owned by Naspers and I knew they weren’t going to try and help me in the case but that’s all they wanted to do. They wanted to take me out as an individual and eventually, it got uglier and uglier. Eventually, my phone was tapped, my emails were hacked. I started getting threats to my safety, and I was being followed, and I got a private investigator helping me, who then intercepted the threat to my safety. I went underground for four days in Johannesburg and I just realised that there was more to life, I couldn’t live any more. Hence, my return to the USA and it’s sad because I had opened up a criminal case with the Morningside Police. It got bounced around to Randburg SAPS, and then it went to the Gauteng Provincial. It eventually got swept under the carpet. I had no protection as an individual. I was fighting a lone battle. There were no groups to support me. I tried the National Editors Forum, I tried to get some help from them. I was all on my own and it was very tough, lonely, and scary at the same time.
Does the name Hogan Lovells, mean anything to you?
Well, now it does. It didn’t mean anything until I read BizNews this morning and I saw the whole newsletter and I was reading about Hogan Lovells, the law firm in London, and it’s quite ironic because their company in SA, their lawyer, Brian Bieber, was given R70 000 by Megapro to spy on me because I was doing a whole exposé on SA rugby about four years ago and it led me to Mark Alexander, who is now the president of SA Rugby, who got R2.5m in kickbacks from Megapro to push through the renewal of a massive lucrative commercial contract. Megapro’s lawyer is Brian Biebuyck, and I got legal threats from him at the time. I knew all along that eventually something was going to break and just a few months ago I had got an invoice that shows Hogan Lovells was paid R75 000 to spy on me for Megapro.
That’s the thing. Megapro, George Rautenbach is very well connected at the highest levels. He’s very friendly with Mark Alexander, big friends. He’s big friends with Imtiaz Patel at SuperSport and MultiChoice. Slowly you start to join the dots because these guys are all in the system where there’s a lot of dirty conduits. It’s cash behind the back. It’s dropping off briefcases of cash for certain deals and that how it all works. They’ve all become very friendly, and they all know each other. Megapro take Jurie Roux around the world to different golf events. He went to the Masters in 2015 with Megapro, the British Open last year. As I said, George Rautenbach has a marketing company that has a lot to answer for, and a lot of people and Sedgars is another whole story. They’ve acted as a dirty conduit for a bunch of different people. They’ve got all these big contracts and as a clothing manufacturer they supply not only clothing but certainly a whole lot of kit, and equipment to all the different sporting federations, including SASCOC, and that’s all linked to Hajera Kajee and Tubby Reddy – it’s deeply rooted corruption in SA sport that’s systemic and it’s a mafia that’s running sport in the country.
Graeme, during your time at CNN you covered sport all over the world. You clearly have come into contact with many sports administrators. Are there any parallels to what’s going on in SA now, to what you might have come across elsewhere?
Alec, when I was at CNN, it was more reporting. You weren’t doing real investigative journalism. We did a half-hour live show with highlights just to bring people up to date with what was happening around the world so, it was a very compact show. I only really got into investigative journalism by default back in SA and, yes, there are when you look at FIFA and you look at the IOC – these organisations are corrupt. So, it’s not a SA thing. It’s a world thing where you have corruption in the private sector, the corporate sector, as well as sport. For me it was being an athlete myself and watching what was going on. As a journalist you’ve got your ethics and integrity and I couldn’t sit on the information that I was getting. As I said, it really became an addiction for me, this investigative journalism. I couldn’t wait to wake up in the morning to see what was in my inbox and then digging up the dirt but it changed me as a person completely. I became the Graeme Joffe that I wasn’t. My friends even said to me, ‘Graeme, please give it up, you’re changing – this is not you.’ I became a recluse. I didn’t want to go out at night. I thought they were going to try and, you know, when you start getting followed. I got into this cave that I just didn’t know who I was anymore. Sadly, it changed me as a person but Alec, I have no regrets. As a journalist I’m trying to make a difference and you’ve got your ethics and integrity, which is more to me than anything else.
How do you feel right now, now that after all these years of being ostracised, finally what you worked for is coming into the open? Finally, the courage that you’ve shown throughout this period is being exposed to other people that you really were on the right track and you weren’t making all the stuff up.
Alec, I always knew. I knew I had the truth. I knew it was factual. I always believed in what I was doing. It didn’t worry me that there were a lot of other people that said, ‘this guy is just making stuff up,’ because there were so many vindictive things out there. They created this anonymous website on a server in Panama, I’ve got all the details and one day it will all be released, but they tried to defame me and discredit me. There were all these fake Twitter accounts, you know all about that, you’re the victim of that as well, and they went after me. It was tough because I was on my own so, there is some vindication and I feel a little bit better that hopefully that wheel is turning but I went through hell. My first year-and-a-half back in the USA were extremely tough. I was lonely, I wanted to come back, I thought I had unfinished business. Obviously, I went through a major depression and as an investigative journalist I don’t think a lot of us realise what you actually go through. We see the sad stories about what’s happened to some investigative journalists and whistleblowers – it’s a lonely world out there. I just hope that by now, this latest story where I felt that I couldn’t sit on this information any longer, it’s time that these people be brought to book. That people know who the corrupt people are in SA sport and that it’s time to stop dealing with them. Stop supplying them, and just criminal action needs to happen and that’s the only way that this problem is going to be solved. You can write about it until you’re blue in the face. I’ve written about it for six-years – none of these guys have ever been charged, but I think times are changing and I’m hoping just for the better of SA sport.
Well, we see that the criminal justice system now is being uncaptured. Clearly, the president in waiting, Cyril Ramaphosa, has made it his campaign promise that he is going to attack corruption. Given that environment, would you put together dossiers and supply these maybe, to a new National Prosecuting Authority, one that isn’t run by Shaun the Sheep?
You are so right, Alec. Yes, I would love to. I gave a full written submission to the Sports Ministerial SASCOC Enquiry, which I believe has now been postponed. I don’t hold much faith for that enquiry because it’s conflicted, and the Sports Ministry is guilty of very similar things to SASCOC. They’ve got dirty conduits in the Sports Trust and other means, and I believe if you’re really going to get some justice it needs to be an independent enquiry for the right people to be brought to book, but I am. I do believe and hoping that president Cyril Ramaphosa, in the future, is going to be the stepping-stone just to bring these people to book. To clean-up, not only just SA sport but to make a difference. To help alleviate poverty, to help education, and not just about sport. The National Lottery is filthy. There is so much corruption within there and yes, I really do hold some hope and, as I said, my information is all out there. I’ve put it out there when I wrote for News24, when I wrote for the Citizen, when I started my own digital publication, and as I said, criminal action – hopefully that’s where it’s got to take its course and that will bring about change quicker than anything.
Graeme, in the economy generally, when you have corruption the people who lose the most are the poor people. What about in sport?
One hundred percent. Alec, that is so true because what happens now in SA is if you’re not from a wealthy family it’s very difficult for your kid to represent SA in sport because so many of the sporting federations have become so corrupt and the administrators are lining their own back pockets. I’ll give you an example of Swimming SA, which has been corrupt for years. If you’re not a wealthy family how do you afford R60 000 to R70 000 for your kid to go and swim in an Athena event overseas? That’s what it’s costing, R60 000 to R70 000 just for your kid to go and spend a week overseas representing your country at an Athena event – it’s ludicrous and it’s happening in other sports. The wealthy sports, rugby, cricket, soccer – the athletes are fairly well looked after but it’s the development. It’s in the townships where these administrators should be going, where more money should be spent on coaches in these townships to develop natural talent. For what we have in SA with talent, finance, and facilities we should be getting 30 to 40 medals at the Olympic Games. What happens? We get 10 and we celebrate mediocrity with a big parade to make as though how well we’ve done. Believe you me, we could be doing so much better if the money is put into the right places, into the right direction, and put into the right hands. Right now, way too much of it, and we’re talking about millions and millions, is being put into the wrong hands, and wasted and abused.
Surely, the sponsors are also responsible. They should be watching where the money is going to.
Some are. Steinhoff is now pulling out of SA Rugby it’s a good thing because the sponsors need to know where’s their money going. Unfortunately, there are too many sponsors and I look at some of the agents and the head of sponsorships, are friendly with the different marketing companies and some of them are getting kickbacks. There’s no question about that that and, at the end of the day, it’s not what’s good for the brand but it’s what’s good for me as the sponsor agent, which is all wrong. Some of these big corporates are involved in the Sports Trust and when I approached them and told them there was corruption within the Sports Trust, that it was a dirty conduit for the Sports Ministry, they all turned a blind eye but now, with recent developments and what’s happened with Steinhoff and what’s happened with other companies, I’m hoping now that the auditing companies and these corporates are now taking note that it’s not right to do what’s right for me. Let’s do what’s right for the brand and what’s right for SA.
So, you do have the benefit of distance, and sitting in the US, watching the developments in SA. Given what you’ve seen over the last month, it hasn’t been much longer than that, how do you see or how do you wish that the sporting environment will change?
Alec, there’s got to be drastic change and I’m talking right from the very top. From the Sports Ministry, which needs to be investigated to SASCOC. There needs to be full forensic audits done of the Sports Ministry, their conduits, which I’ve named on a number of occasions, the Olympic Committee of SA needs a full forensic audit, and then there needs to be criminal action taken against individuals, and that slowly, you know, there’s no honour amongst thieves. Everyone is starting and already, Tubby Reddy, is starting to blow the trumpet and talk about how Gideon Sam, and how Barry Hendricks – so now that he’s been caught out they start splitting on each other. Obviously, someone is trying to control that because it could really blow-up into the full explosion but that’s what needs to happen. We need to almost go back to ground-zero and build up SA sport from the bottom, and make sure that the top, which is right now so corrupt, because corruption as we know, rots from the head and it filters all the way down.
Cyril Ramaphosa: The Audio Biography
Listen to the story of Cyril Ramaphosa's rise to presidential power, narrated by our very own Alec Hogg.