Challenges facing Chess South Africa

Sports, Arts and Culture

03 November 2020
Chairperson: Ms B Dlulane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

In a virtual meeting, the Committee was briefed by the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture on the challenges facing Chess South Africa. The presentation highlighted the challenges as the following: unending court battles, huge sums of money being incurred in legal costs, serious elements of racial undertones in the entity's internal fights and corruption in handling the finances of the entity. These challenges are negatively impacting the ability to develop chess and support players from poor backgrounds. The matter was previously taken to the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee who failed to resolve it. The President of Chess South Africa and the Department asked the Minister to intervene due to the serious issues of factionalism within the entity. The matter reached the courts and is currently on appeal. As a result, the Minister isn’t authorised to intervene because the dispute is sub judice.

Members raised concern on the issue of leadership within the entity and asked for an explanation on how it expects the Portfolio Committee to intervene. Members also raised concern that the presentation was one-sided and requested for another meeting with both groups to be present. Some members argued that because the matter is sub judice, the meeting can't continue. Other members raised concern on the lack of transformation in sports entities and the negative impact it has on players from poor backgrounds.

Chess SA said it not only faces financial challenges but also governance and administrative ones. The Special General Meeting in July 2018 marked the beginning of the leadership battles. Other challenges include the following: lack of funding from government for the last three years, no proper accountability, confusion and division created by the parallel Boards and continual threat of court action. The entity has not produced audited financial statements for several years and a pro-bono auditor was engaged to audit the 2017/18 financial statements. The audit revealed possible misappropriation of funds because most transactions had no clear descriptions. It is recommended that a Commission of Inquiry be appointed to deal with the financial irregularities, good governance and the conflict of interest. The impact of the court appeal is huge because the exclusion of people in the entity has been ongoing for a while. The entity requests the Committee to grant it an audience in the meantime while it waits for the outcome of the pending court case, to set up an interim structure to assist players and administrators and to address the racial undertones marked by the two groups.

The Committee raised concern that the two groups were not present and agreed to suspend the meeting so that both sides can appear together before members on 6 November 2020 at 09:00. The South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee will also be invited to attend the meeting.

Meeting report

Opening Remarks

The Chairperson welcomed Members to the meeting and congratulated the DA Members for holding a free and fair Congress over the weekend. Apologies from the Minister, Deputy Minister and a Committee Member were noted. The documents pertaining to Project Flamigo were received at 19:32 on Thursday. She apologised for failing to forward the email to Members. Can Members provide their email addresses to the Secretary so that the documents can be forwarded to them? A letter of invitation to the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee's (SASCOC) Annual General Meeting was received. It was noted that members had previously requested for the whole Committee to be invited. Can the meeting agenda be adopted?

Mr T Mhlongo (DA) thanked the Chairperson for her congratulatory remarks and said that the DA managed to have a successful Congress. The Committee had concluded that SASCOC elections must proceed. Has the Chairperson written to the Minister and if so, what was the feedback received? The Committee felt that the elections wouldn’t be free and fair. If SASCOC invited the Chairperson, what were they saying by this? He said that Ms V Van Dyk (DA) and himself had sent several emails to the Chairperson but did not receive any responses. The emails asked who the presenter was going to be given the fact that there is a dispute between the two groups in Chess South Africa (Chess SA). Why did the Committee receive the presentation documents late? It was distributed a day before the meeting.

The Chairperson thanked Members for raising questions and asked for the meeting agenda to be adopted first before responses are given. The emails were received but could not be responded to because of a busy weekend, by-elections and door-to-door briefings. She apologised for failing to respond to Members. The people who were mentioned in the correspondence are present in the meeting and will address the Committee. Can the meeting agenda be adopted?

The Committee adopted the agenda.

The Chairperson apologised for the letters that were sent to her. She highlighted that she had a very busy weekend and the responses were not going to assist Members. It is good that the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture (DSAC) is present in the meeting to brief Members and engage with the questions raised. The Department is having serious problems with Chess SA which will be highlighted during the meeting and it needs to clarify who is who within the entity. Can the Department and Chess SA answer the questions that have been raised?

Mr Joe Mahomole, President, Chess South Africa, replied that two of his members are absent. These include the members from the North West province and Schools Sport. The Constitution of Chess SA indicates that the President of Schools Sport and the President of the Players Association are supposed to be part of the Committee as Executive Members. Although it appears as if the entity is male-dominated, women were part of the Board but chose to resign due to the problems that the organisation is facing. The Board has previously asked the Department to intervene on the problems. This is why it has sought the intervention of the Portfolio Committee.

Mr Vusumuzi Mkhize, Director-General, Department of Sports, Arts and Culture (DSAC), apologised for distributing the report late. The Department received the presentation from Chess SA on Monday and distributed it the morning before the meeting. There are complexities and a number of legalities involved in the matter. The Department has been looking at how best it can provide an overview to members that is based on accurate facts and information. This resulted in a number of consultations with state law advisors to gather more information. The Department also wanted to receive more information from the President of Chess SA. It wrote a letter of apology noting the concerns of the Committee and sent it to members the day before the meeting. He apologised for the delays and insisted that it wasn't out of disrespect to the Committee. It is going to do its best to make sure it provides the Committee with an accurate picture of the presentation.

The Chairperson asked if Members have any further questions to raise.

Mr Mhlongo asked if Chess SA can explain to the Committee why its documents were distributed late.

Mr Mahomole apologised for distributing the documents late. It was not deliberate. Chess SA had to consult extensively within the organisation and with the Department. The Secretary of Chess SA was only able to send the dropbox link to the documents the day before the meeting. Chess SA wrote to the Department so that both entities would present to the Committee and be aligned. Unfortunately, there wasn’t space to meet and talk. In future, documents will be submitted earlier.

The Chairperson said that the Committee sits and plans accordingly because it has to perform oversight duties for each and every entity that accounts to it. Initially, Chess SA was supposed to appear before the Committee on 27 October 2020 but because of challenges on the part of the entity the meeting was postponed. Some of the challenges are probably exacerbated by Covid-19 which saw another unexpected wave in sport. The problems in sport are so luminous. What exactly is going on? The meeting was previously postponed so it is not an excuse to say that the entity was not ready the day before the meeting. Members are not being taken seriously. The Committee performs a number of things in Parliament on behalf of the country and it must be taken seriously. It decided that it would be in its best interest to summon both the Department and Chess SA to provide briefings. The Department indicated that there are problems in Chess SA. Members are urged to accept the apology so that answers can be provided on the questions raised. The entities must be given a chance with warning that it will be the first and last time the Committee is disrespected.

Mr Mkhize replied that the questions raised by the Committee on the different structures of governance in Chess SA are extensively covered in the report. The status quo of the entity is a consequence of a number of divisions and maladministration challenges that it is facing. These challenges happened and were exacerbated at the time the former President of Chess SA passed away.

Mr M Seabi (ANC) agreed with the Chairperson that Chess SA has to be cautioned and called to order. The entity initiated the meeting by writing to the Committee requesting an intervention. The reason the entity is not ready is not substantial. While the entity has been called to order, it is important for the meeting to continue so that Members can hear their side of the story.

Mr Mhlongo said that the Committee has set a bad precedent by allowing Chess SA to submit its presentation late. This has to stop and the Chairperson is thanked for emphasising that. Although Members are not happy with the situation, the meeting must continue for the sake of progress.

Challenges in Chess SA as reported by the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture

Mr Mkhize said that the Department acknowledges the issues raised by Members and will work on them. The report is informed by the President of Chess SA's presentation and includes an overview of the challenges facing the entity. The Department asked the Minister to intervene and the report includes information on his powers to do so. The matter was previously taken to SASCOC who failed to resolve it. Thereafter, Chess SA decided to take it back to the Minister. The Chess SA Board, under the leadership of Mr Mahomole initiated the meeting. The other Board, under the leadership of Mr du Toit, challenged the outcome of the matter by way of an appeal in the High Court. This made it difficult for the Minister to intervene because the matter is sub judice. Members should take note of the fact that one of the problems that the entity is facing pertains to the du Toit Board which was unsuccessful in the elections and decided to take the matter on appeal. The duly elected Board, led by Mr Mahomole, is recognised by the Continental Body while the du Toit Board is recognised by the International Body. The recognition by the International Board was done without proper consultations. The disjuncture between the two bodies in giving recognition to different structures of governance has serious impacts on the Department's funding. The matter needs to be finalised because the Department has failed to proceed for the past three years. The internal conflicts within the entity also inhibit its ability to meet its mandate. The greatest victims in all of this are the chess players themselves who have been negatively impacted especially when it comes to international competition. Who is sending them? Who is in charge of the learners at an international level? The impact is huge on the development of the game in South Africa and needs to be addressed. The Deputy Director-General was asked to begin the presentation.

Ms Sumayya Khan, Deputy Director-General: Recreation Development and Sport Promotion, DSAC, said that the presentation highlights the challenges that Chess SA are facing as it has been reported by the entity to the Department. Mr Mahomole wrote to the Minister requesting an intervention due to the serious issues of factionalism within the entity. The matter reached the courts and is currently pending on appeal. Some of the challenges include the following: unending court battles which deprive the players an opportunity to play and develop in chess and result in huge sums of money being incurred in legal costs, serious elements of racial undertones in the internal fights and corruption and impropriety in handling the finances on the part of Mr du Toit and his cohorts. These challenges are negatively impacting the players and the funds for legal costs should rather be used for developing chess and supporting players from poor backgrounds. The Department sought the opinion of the State Law Advisor to determine whether the Minister is authorised to intervene. The response was that the Minister is debarred from intervening because the dispute is sub judice. The Minister has taken legal advice as the following: he is debarred from interfering with the dispute and will abide by the decision of the High Court once it is handed down. He remains committed to engaging with the parties to find an amicable solution provided the court action is withdrawn and the dispute is settled outside of court.

The Chairperson thanked Ms Khan for the presentation and opened the floor for discussion.

Discussion

Mr Mhlongo said the leadership of Chess SA is an issue. The Department itself has said it is not sure who is who. There is a pending case before the court and therefore the Committee cannot continue with the meeting because the matter is sub judice. Mr du Toit is not in the meeting to present his side of the story. Members are not even sure if SASCOC really failed to intervene. Can SASCOC brief the Committee on why it did not intervene in the dispute? Members do not want a situation where they do something that differs from what the Minister will do. The meeting cannot continue.

Mr Seabi asked what the dispute is. The presentation does not clearly indicate what exactly is in dispute. There are two groups but what exactly is the dispute? What is the decision of the High Court? If one group was advised by the Minister that the matter is sub judice and the Department agrees with this, then why are they requesting the Committee to intervene?

The Chairperson asked what exactly Chess SA wants the Committee to do for them. Can we give Chess SA the chance to present on what they want us to do? There are so many things happening in sport. The entities in sport meet with the Department, take decisions and then later decide to appear before the Committee. Both the Department and Chess SA are before the Committee. Since the Department has already briefed members, Chess SA must explain what their expectations are.

Mr B Madlingozi (EFF) said it is becoming a norm for entities that were previously ruled by white leaders to refuse to transform. A lot of money is being used to prevent the transformation process from happening. The two groups within Chess SA are fighting while the players on the ground are suffering. There is nothing that says that poor South Africans are not smart enough to play the game of chess. If the internal conflicts are going to block them from being a part of the beautiful game, then there's a problem with the Constitution especially if it is not protecting the people of South Africa and ensuring their participation. The Minister should stand up and take charge even though there are a lot of legalities going on because there is a need to protect the people of South Africa. The problem has been seen in cricket and rugby where entities are vehemently refusing to transform. The Committee must come together and fight for the people of South Africa. It looks like the Minister’s hands are tied up yet he is supposed to be protecting our people. A total disbarment of all entities that are refusing to transform is going to happen. It has to happen because the leaders are hiding behind their constitutions and the courts.

Ms Van Dyk said that the issues raised by Mr Madlingozi illustrate why she requested for both parties to attend the meeting. The specific reason is that the Committee is going to get a one-sided presentation. The meeting that took place in July was declared unconstitutional and there is a court document to support this. The issue is not about race but about the processes. Can Mr Mahomole produce a legal opinion that substantiates his claim of being the legitimate President? There is legal documentation that suggests Mr du Toit is the legal President of Chess SA. Some of the slides in the presentation are factually incorrect, particularly the one on the conflict of interest. It has not been shared with the Committee that at the time Mr du Toit was awarded the specific contract, he was not serving on any committee. Mr Mahomole was actually the Vice President of Chess SA and awarded the contract to Mr du Toit. Chess SA in 2015 was expelled from the International Body because it could not pay its debt. The contract was then given to Mr du Toit to solve the debt problem and it was for ten years.  Chess SA is supposed to furnish the Committee with information on the registration fees for specific tournaments where it was receipted at R900. Members also need clarity on whether the cost of players for six nights is R3 100 and if the same applies to disadvantaged players. One-sided presentations are worrying. There's a need for the other party to also explain the facts to the Committee.

Mr Mhlongo said that the issue in Chess SA is not about race. It is an issue of processes. The Department has been copied in a letter in which his colleague is trying to find out who the actual President of Chess SA is. In 2017/18, Chess SA recognised the Board led by Mr Mahomole because it had been elected but there was an Annual General Meeting that took place on 29 June 2019. Who was elected? Both parties need to appear before the Committee. There is no point in continuing with the meeting because Members have heard a one-sided presentation. Can the Committee cancel the meeting and call both parties to attend another meeting? Mr du Toit also has to be a part of that meeting. It is like when people go for election where a person who is not there cannot be elected. It is only Members who are participating in the election that can be elected. The Chairperson has congratulated the DA because the elections were free and fair. The Committee needs to invite both parties so that it can mediate on the matter.

Mr Seabi said that Members must not speak for any of the two groups in Chess SA. Sometimes Members are called to order for saying that they are spokespersons. There are loud spokespersons in this meeting. The Committee needs answers on the questions that have been raised. Once answered, it will provide the Committee with some indication on how to adjudicate the proposal made by Mr Mhlongo. Can Members receive clarification so that they can adjudicate on Mr Mhlongo’s proposal?

The Chairperson said that she was giving everyone a chance to speak and is not dismissing the questions that have been asked. Members are still expecting an answer from Chess SA on the questions raised. There is no problem if Members want the other side led by Mr du Toit to present before the Committee. There are people who have written to the Committee asking for an intervention. Mr Mahomole and his Board need to be given a chance to tell the Committee why they have written to it. The Committee is not taking sides and will maintain this position even if the two groups appear together before it.

Responses

Mr Mahomole replied that it is important for the Committee to understand the broader picture by including the two groups. The decision to write to the Committee is based on the fact that the Board was not given an opportunity to be heard by SASCOC. The challenges have been consistently raised with SASCOC but the Board cannot obtain a hearing. The procedures were followed and now the Board is patiently waiting for the law to take its course. It could not keep quiet forever in the face of the suffering of marginalised people in South Africa. The problem has been long standing even before the departments were joined together. As a result, the entity wrote to the Department seeking intervention but it was told that there could not be intervention because the matter is sub judice. It had hoped that the Department would grant either or both groups an audience to explain the background of the problem. The background is difficult to understand especially for people who are not part of the entity. This is why an explanation is needed. It is hoped that the entity will eventually get an opportunity to address the Department and the Minister on this matter. The issue of transformation is what brought the entity before the Committee. The resistance to transformation is leading to the exclusion of many people from the entity. The expectations of the entity needed to be heard mainly because it needs the marginalised people in South Africa to be given opportunities to express themselves and to represent the country.

Mr Mahomole replied that it is not true that Mr du Toit’s Board is recognised by the World Chess Federation (FIDE). The Board led by himself is the one that is recognised by FIDE. This information appears on the FIDE website. All correspondence from FIDE to Chess SA is through his Board. FIDE has been informed of the developments in Chess SA and FIDE took the decision that it is in the best interest of the players for the two groups to participate in the selection process for the participation of players. This is something that happened when the country was in lockdown during the international online event. There was a FIDE council meeting which took the decision that the matter in Chess SA needed to be investigated. The position of the council meeting was that FIDE only gets guidance from the National Olympic Committee (NOC) and government. The NOC is South Africa is SASCOC but it has not provided any assistance. Instead of meeting with both Boards, it met with Mr du Toit’s Board. Mr du Toit went to the meeting with his lawyers but when the other Board requested a meeting too, it never happened. It's against this background that the entity decided to write to the Committee. The entity is not asking the Committee to flout the Constitution or go against what the courts are saying. Rather, it is asking for the Committee to intervene on behalf of the excluded chess players and administrators who are unable to participate in mainstream chess due to financial reasons. The situation cannot be left unattended. There is supposed to be a means through which the marginalised are assisted while the court processes continue. The presentation will provide a background of the dispute and offer recommendations.

Presentation by Chess South Africa

Mr Mahomole said that the challenges facing Chess SA are not only financial but mainly about governance and administration. In January 2018, the entity was supposed to hold elections but it never took place due to technicalities. The Special General Meeting convened in July 2018 which led to the selection of the Board. This marked the beginning of the leadership battles within the entity. Other challenges include the following: lack of funding from government for the last three years, no proper accountability, confusion and division created by the parallel Boards and continual threat of court action. The lack of funding negatively affects players and administrators from disadvantaged communities. The entity has not produced audited financial statements for several years and a pro-bono auditor was engaged to audit the 2017/18 financial statements. The audit revealed possible misappropriation of funds because most transactions had no clear descriptions. It is recommended that a Commission of Inquiry be appointed to deal with the financial irregularities, good governance and the conflict of interest.

Mr Mahomole said that the last decision of the court, the default judgment, was rescinded. The decisions that were taken prior to the default judgment are therefore null and void. Mr du Toit’s Board appealed against the rescission. The appeal can be interpreted to mean that du Toit's group intends to continuously exclude people in order to protect their own personal business interests. The impact is huge because the exclusion of people in Chess SA has been ongoing for a while. This is the reason why a decision was made to contest the election. He said that he has been a part of the entity since 1992 but has never been interested in leadership until people persuaded him to assist with the transformation process. When the issue of transformation was raised, the du Toit group flatly refused to adopt the policy. The entity is requesting for the Committee and the Minister to grant it an audience in the meantime while it waits for the outcome of the pending court cases. There's no issue with the Committee setting up an interim structure to assist the players and the administrators because they are most affected. Can the Committee address the racial undertones because the entity is basically split into two groups along racial lines?

Discussion

Mr Seabi said that he supports the proposal by Mr Mhlongo to postpone the meeting and invite the two groups for another meeting. The Committee should consider inviting the two groups on Friday so that the matter is dealt with at once.

Mr M Zondi (ANC) said that he supports the proposal to suspend the meeting. Can SASCOC also be invited to the meeting with the two groups? It has been constantly cited in both presentations.

The Chairperson asked members to comment on the proposal.

Ms R Adams (ANC) said that she supports the proposal to suspend the meeting until both groups are invited to brief the Committee. SASCOC has its own challenges so it's better for the Committee to deal with Chess SA.

Mr Seabi said that he has no problem with inviting SASCOC to the meeting but this may not be possible because it has its Annual General Meeting on 7 November. The Committee must try and invite SASCOC because it's a good proposal if it can work.

The Chairperson asked for guidance from Members on the SASCOC issue. The Department and Chess SA were thanked for their detailed presentations. The Committee is likely to face challenges when inviting SASCOC but the possibility of them attending the meeting mustn't be ruled out. She said that she wrote to the Minister on Friday informing him that the Committee doesn’t see the SASCOC elections as being free and fair. An email inviting her to the SASCOC Annual General Meeting to be held at 14:00 was received on Monday. The Committee is going to have a meeting on Friday with Chess SA from 09:00 to 13:00. Can invitation letters be sent to Mr du Toit and his Board? SASCOC must also be invited and it will not be assumed that they cannot make it. Members are at work and whenever they see a gap, they have to take decisions as a Committee to ensure their work is finished. Have Members received the emails on Project Flamigo?

Members replied that they have not received the emails. Only one Member replied that he did receive it but it was not opening properly.

The Chairperson said that she will ensure it is sent to Members individually. The Committee did not envision having problems with sport in 2020. The members and Committee staff are thanked for doing a good job. Members are not in the Committee for their own individual good but for the good of the country.

The meeting was adjourned.

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