White elephant worries for SA

2010-07-07 19:18
Polokwane – The stadium in Polokwane, inspired by Africa's ancient baobab trees, stands idle after its last World Cup match nearly two weeks ago. Now this and other cities wonder: What's next?

At Polokwane's R1.3bn Peter Mokaba Stadium, a handful of security guards and construction workers mill about.

Other than that, there is no activity.

Worries about white elephants concern most major sporting events, but in South Africa, Polokwane poses the toughest riddle for the future of its 40 000-seat stadium.

In a town of 500 000 people, four hours' drive north of Johannesburg, Polokwane sits in the rural northern province of Limpopo that has no professional rugby or football team – and no clear use for its stadium.

"Limpopo doesn't have many big events," said one stadium guard, who asked not to be named for fear of losing his job. "But I do wish there would be more in future so we would have jobs."

One of the lucky ones

"Our purpose is done now. World Cup is over and I guess it goes for this stadium. I am one of the lucky ones. The only reason I am still here is because equipment is still being moved," he added.

The stadium was built to host just four World Cup matches, which saw the city flooded with visitors for game nights but deserted on the off-days.

South Africa has poured R11.7bn, into 10 stadiums in nine cities, including five built from scratch to host Africa's first World Cup.

Most of the venues are taking at least small steps toward re-inventing themselves for after the final on Sunday.

Nelspruit, a town of about 235 000 near Kruger National Park, is luring the province's professional football team, the Mpumalanga Black Aces to hold at least some matches on the new field.

Port Elizabeth, which has no professional football team, reached a deal with rugby's second division Currie Cup side the Mighty Elephants to move into its new stadium. The old rugby stadium is slated for demolition.

Major cities

Most other venues already have resident teams for their stadiums, or are located in major cities like Durban or Cape Town that attract major events.

Showpiece Soccer City in Johannesburg, Africa's biggest stadium with up to 94 500 seats, is expected to host a rugby test match against New Zealand next month, after the Super 14 rugby finals enjoyed huge success in nearby Orlando Stadium in Soweto.

More rugby will likely come into the new football stadiums to make them more viable, and to continue encouraging fans of traditionally white rugby and black football to mix.

But Polokwane has no clear possibilities, and has turned to the national treasury for cash for the R17m rand in annual upkeep costs.

The city's 2010 director Ndavhe Ramakuela said that is only a temporary solution.

"We are going to put a tender for a management company to manage the stadium on behalf of the municipality maybe end of July. We are also speaking to a number of rugby and soccer associations to utilise the stadium," he said.

Marketing the province

The next step will be to market the province to host big events, although Ramakuela admits none will be as big as the World Cup.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has brushed off concerns about white elephants, saying the tournament will boost the economy by 0.5% this year.

He also said the new infrastructure would bring long-term benefits to South Africa – not all of them financial.

"If you built a road, it doesn't disappear the day after the World Cup," he told a press conference.

"This tournament has also united South Africans" in a way not seen since the end of apartheid in 1994, he said.
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