City Press reported over the weekend that SAA sommelier and Global Food and Beverage Manager, Bongi Sodladla, was feted with bribes and incentives to offer wine purchase contracts to those wineries which greased her palms. Had Bribery Bongi not been going through a divorce, and had her still-current husband Wonga Sodladla not been so generous with information sent to SAA last month about his wife’s misdemeanours, SAA, the wine industry, and the South African public would never have known what was going on behind the scenes of SAA’s wine buying!
We first heard of Bribery Bongi in October last year, when she appeared in an episode of Season 3 of MasterChef SA, with sommeliers Miguel Chan, Neil Grant, Pearl Oliver from the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel; and Gregory Mutambe from the Twelve Apostles Hotel & Spa.
Bribery Bongi has been suspended from her duties, while the airline conducts an investigation into the allegations, which include:
* The annual SAA wine selection event was used by her as a ‘personal piggy bank’, into which bribes were paid by wine estates to secure an opportunity to present their wines to a tasting panel. Whistle-blowing Wonga said: ‘those who pay well get the biggest orders. In other words, the bigger the bribe, the bigger the order’. Her lawyer denies the allegation, saying she had no influence over the final selection of the wines. However Bribery Bongi’s name appears on top of the list of 12 judges for the selection of wines for SAA’s winelist, out of 800 submitted, according to SAA’s media statement in the past two years. Chan and Mutambe serve on the judging panel too.
* Nepotism is alleged, in that Bribery Bongi’s cousin Nontle Somdaka owns Liberty Vintners, and received SA contracts of more than R5 million in the past three years. Nepotism Nontle claims that it is whistle-blower Wonga who owns the company!
* Bribery Bongi accepted a ‘wedding gift/bribe‘ of R20000 in cash in a ‘shoe box‘ when they got married in 2008, from a deli and coffee shop in Sandton, which has received ‘food contracts with SAA worth millions of rands‘. The lawyer has confirmed the gift.
* A bidding caterer dropped off meals to Bribery Bongi’s house the evening before the food was blind-tasted, so that she could identify it the following day. This happened every year in the past six years.
SAA has not commented about the specific allegations, but stated: ‘The airline views these allegations in a serious light … and should evidence of wrongdoing emerge, SAA will not hesitate to act against any of its employees. In order to avoid causing prejudice to any of the parties affected, SAA will not comment on any specific claims made until the investigation has been concluded’.
POSTSCRIPT 23/2: City Press has written this weekend that the anti-corruption unit the Hawks is investigating the SAA wine bribery allegations. Anura wine estate in Klapmuts appears to have been a major beneficiary, with orders of about R6 million, and invitations to stay over on the wine estate and in Plettenberg Bay.