In the much-anticipated episode of Checkpoint discussing the ministerial cook-off hosted by Minister of Tourism Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane on Tuesday evening, it was revealed that the event, meant to boost tourism in Ekurhuleni, likely did quite the opposite.
Other aspects of the 17 May cook-off, including how much it cost taxpayers and how much television and radio personality Somizi Mhlongo was paid, were not properly answered, despite probing questions into the tourism department’s intentions.
Department of Tourism spokesperson Blessing Manale said Mhlongo “didn’t get a cent” when he was asked how much the radio personality received.
In a parliamentary response to questions about the cook-off, Kubayi-Ngubane, however, confirmed that her department spent R150,000 on the cook-off.
It still remains unclear how much of this money went into Mhlongo’s pocket. His wages for the cook-off were not revealed in Manale’s typed-up draft of the event’s budget.
Somizi was ‘plan b’
During the Checkpoint episode, hosted by Nkepile Mabuse, it was revealed that another celebrity chef was the department’s initial first choice.
Manale said in his interview that due to “previous criminal matters pending”, it was decided to use Mhlongo instead.
Manale said this may have been because he “wanted to associate with government”, but also alluded to Mhlongo’s sexual orientation as being a possible “new niche in tourism.”
When asked about this, Mhlongo said he was not aware of being the department’s second choice, nor that his sexual orientation played a role in his selection.
He conceded that the event only had the prospect of partly boosting tourism.
For Mhlongo, it was simply another gig he had been contracted to host.
Other businesses suffering
Checkpoint interviewed an array of struggling tourism business owners, who all say they still feel abandoned by the department, and its tourism relief fund promises.
They told Mabuse that they still have not received any financial support from the tourism department, and that all invitations sent to Kubayi-Ngubane’s team were either ignored or declined.
As a result, even prominent businesses such as restaurant Chaf Pozi are being forced to find alternate means to keep salaries and rent up to date.
DA cries foul
The DA said the R150,000 spent on the cook-off was “completely unnecessary, wasteful and does nothing to help the tourism industry get back on its feet after the government-lead lockdown.
“Instead, what it does is promote the Minister and her public profile at the taxpayer’s cost.”
It said Kubayi-Ngubane, who is acting health minister after minister Zweli Mkhize was placed on special leave, should have focused on assisting struggling business.
Catch the latest episode of Checkpoint on eNCA’s YouTube channel.
Additional reporting by Farrah Francis