Woodburn crisis: rugby union ‘got nowhere’ in talks

2011-08-16 00:00

THE Msunduzi Municipality has confused two totally different issues in its response to the crisis facing Woodburn Stadium, Piet Herbst, president of the Midlands Rugby Sub-Union, said yesterday.

Woodburn Stadium, the headquarters for rugby in Pietermaritzburg and the KZN midlands, is facing closure largely because of crippling electricity charges. The venue is owned by the KZN Rugby Union (KZNRU) and is used by 10 clubs in Pietermaritzburg and surrounds for evening practices and matches, and for the development of the game in the midlands.

The KZNRU executive committee resolved last week “to review the future of Woodburn Stadium” because of the exorbitant costs.

Herbst said that if electricity costs were halved, if the MRSU could pay business rates or the same rate that is charged at King’s Park in Durban for power, the problem could be solved. He and KZNRU CEO Pete Smith said meetings have been held with municipal officials and the Sport and Recreation MEC Weziwe Thusi, while Regan Hoskins, president of the SA Rugby Union, has also become involved.

“We have got nowhere,” said Herbst.

Msunduzi Municipality spokesperson Brian Zuma, in his response last week, said KZNRU had been “very economical” with the truth”.

“Firstly, we have never had meetings with them to discuss electricity. They met with us to discuss their debt as a result of outstanding payments for rates … In light of the fact that this matter is sub judice I am not able to give any further details.”

Herbst said Zuma was referring to a dispute between the municipality and the KZNRU that involves rates, but this is a separate issue to the one involving the MRSU and its problem with their electrical costs.

“The rates issue has absolutely nothing to do with the MRSU and our electrical problems and I don’t know how they can possibly be linked by Mr Zuma.”

Herbst said he has correspondence stretching back over the past six months that confirms a series of meetings and discussions between MRSU rugby officials and the municipality. “Dave Dixon (MRSU vice-president) met Mike Tarr (the then mayor) to discuss the problem, we met with officials of the electricity department and we spoke to Ben Dorfling, a senior member of the task team who was appointed to turn around the cash-strapped municipality.

“I also have a copy here of a letter from Johan van der Merwe, head of the municipality’s legal department, acknowledging correspondence from Regan Hoskins on May 30 this year. Van der Merwe confirms in the letter that he will contact a number of relevant officials about our electrical problems.

“We are still waiting for a response,” said Herbst.

“How Mr Zuma can claim that we have not had meetings about the crippling electricity charges, and then somehow link our problems to their unrelated rates dispute with the KZNRU, is ridiculous,” Herbst added.

Approached for comment Zuma said, “I do not think that we want to see Woodburn Stadium close down. We don’t want that. But how do we talk about considering electricity concessions when there is a huge unpaid rates debt to the municipality? Again I cannot comment further as this matter is in the courts.”

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