Mind Games: Spotted on the lowveld: the rare African white elephant

2014-07-09 10:00

A Twitter chirp about having spotted the rare African white elephant – the Mbombela Stadium – while travelling to the Kruger Park drew an irate response from a local radio station.

They would have me know that Mbombela was a big asset for Nelspruit and the greater Mpumalanga, it was in constant use and my remark was uncalled for.

Rather than question their lack of a sense of humour, I realised it was a sensitive issue and sent peace signals – relating to the lowveld rather than the stadium – and moved on.

The fact of the matter, though, is that the skyline-dominating World Cup soccer stadiums, built for Fifa 2010, are indeed white elephants.

FNB in Joburg, Moses Mabhida in Durban, Green Point in Cape Town, Nelson Mandela Bay in Port Elizabeth, Royal Bafokeng in Rustenburg, Peter Mokaba in Polokwane and Mbombela in the lowveld – all these stadiums are underutilised, underfunded, a drain on the cities in which they’re situated and, to a significant extent, incomplete.

I recently attended big events such as the Bruce Springsteen concert at the Calabash in Johannesburg and rugby tests at Mbombela and Nelson Mandela Bay stadiums, and have been informed by colleagues of conditions at others.

One thing they have in common, just four years after football’s global showpiece, is a seedy, run-down element.

They’re not as clean as they could be, the latrines are beginning to reek, broken seats abound and there are power point problems.

Tight budgets and the rush to complete the stadiums meant that all skimped on the provision of lifts to transport people to the higher levels – especially the infirm.

Many times have I seen invalids or the disabled having to struggle to get to their seats.

All the stadiums lack proper signage – another expense – and temporary staff have little idea of the labyrinth workings of the structures and are therefore little help when one is lost.

It is also a fact that much work is needed to bring the stadiums to the state of completion intended in the original plans, as indicated by chaotic crowd and traffic control.

Public transport to FNB Stadium is no longer as efficient as during the World Cup and parking is a nightmare – as anyone who has been to a big event there will attest.

Parking arrangements around Nelson Mandela Bay work well – as do those at Moses Mabhida – largely because of protocols put in place years ago for Kings Park Stadium.

But Mbombela Stadium appears to have a single access and exit road, and for the recent Wales test against the Springboks, a trip of a few kilometres from the city centre to the very dusty surrounds took just on two hours.

Stadium administrators will point to a lack of funds – it costs a mint to open a stadium for a single event – but surely it is time government, city administrators and representatives of various sports sat down and thrashed out a sustainable preservation plan for the stadiums.

Durban has two “super” stadiums right alongside each other, Joburg has three a few kilometres apart, Cape Town has two while the smaller towns need help to put in the infrastructure and additional sporting and community facilities to make their “stands” the assets they should be.

This will require some give-and-take, a suppressing of egos if you will, plus additional funding. And stadiums like Moses Mabhida and Green Point are unsuitable for the needs of rugby – the one sport that could occasionally fill them.

Something needs to be done to preserve the so-called legacy of 2010 before the structures crumble into complete disrepair.

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