Palace for the people

2009-06-03 00:00

ONE gets the impression that Moses Mabhida might have approved of the stadium that has been named after him.

The staunch communist in the former SACP general-secretary might have baulked at the R2,6 billion cost of the iconic, multipurpose semi-final venue for the 2010 Fifa Soccer World Cup that has come to dominate Durban’s skyline, and he might have frowned at the capitalist nature of its shopping centre and luxuriousness of its suites. But the former trade unionist, who died of a heart attack in Maputo while working for Umkhonto Wesizwe in 1985, might have been pleased at the somewhat egalitarian values the Moses Mabhida Stadium seemingly aspires to.

On a tour of the stadium, Julie-May Ellingson, head of Durban’s strategic projects unit and the city’s preparations for 2010, asserts that Moses Mabhida, with its shops and adjoining people’s park, will be enjoyed by all the city and province’s residents at all times.

Ellingson says that the stadium, which will have an athletics track after 2010, was not built solely for the World Cup but for the benefit of the province.

“We are sitting at a focal point in Durban’s history in terms of a huge investment in 2010 itself, while understanding that the context of that investment is not just solely about 2010,” she says. “There isn’t a single project that we’re doing for 2010 — we have to keep reminding people that they are for Durban and for KwaZulu-Natal.

“What is very important about Moses Mabhida Stadium is that it is a people’s place. It is for the ratepayers and taxpayers of South Africa who paid for the stadium. So we wanted to make sure it wasn’t a stadium that turned its back on the city, that had a big barbed-wire fence around it that said come here when there’s a game on but otherwise stay out.”

Now that Moses Mabhida is more than 70% complete, it is possible to get an idea of the grandiose nature of this super-modern, airy venue and how it will be on a match day.

Some time in the near future — arriving from the south you can either park in one of the people’s park’s 1 000 bays or take a leisurely stroll from Durban past the park’s restaurants, a training field, a children’s playground, a running track around the entire park and trees, lawns and water fountains.

From the north, where there are 1 000 parking bays, or access from King’s Park’s fields, you enter the stadium via the expansive northern concourse on the northwest corner, which is large in size for evacuations and because there will be a train station there.

The concourse and approach from the park are on level three of the six-level stadium and most spectators will walk down to their seats, which is important for security and circulation.

Inside the bowl, once you have recovered your breath from the panorama that greets you, due to the large number of vomitories (access passages to stadium seats), spectators only have some 30 seats to pass by as opposed to 55 to 60 at King’s Park. And there’s more leg room — between a metre and 60 centimetres on the gradually-sloped lower stands, although less on the upper stands, which are still to be built.

Despite this spaciousness, you are surprised at how close the field looks, and the arena almost seems too small to be a 70 000-seater. The stadium’s rugby-ball shape means there are no corners and every seat faces the centre of the field.

Then let the spectacle begin. Watching a sporting event in Moses Mabhida compared with King’s Park will be something akin to watching a football or rugby game on a new high-definition flat-screen television compared with your old bubble-screen Telefunken — you might have loved the Telefunken but the flat screen wins hands down.

At half-time, you make your way to the bars and stalls on the vast concourses surrounding the stadium, or make use of one of the sparkling new toilet facilities.

For the players, after the game they make their way off the field into a large hall that will be the “mixed zone” interview area for the World Cup but offices after that, and into one of four identical change rooms on either side. These are made up of five large interconnected rooms — an entrance area, showers, toilets and basins, a room with eight single-person jet or ice baths and a locker room where the Fabio Cappellos, Dungas, Joachim Lowes and Joel Santanas are sure to deliver some inspired prematch and half-time team talks.

The most striking feature of the stadium, which will make it a recognisable landmark around the world, particularly after 2010, is its 305-metre-long, 106-metre-high arch.

This is a representation of the South African flag with its Y shape that has two legs coming together to represent unity. And yes, it’s not an urban myth, the arch will have a cable car running up its north side to the top. On the southern side an “adventure walk” will take the intrepid viewer up 550 steps to the same platform. There is a proposal for a bungee swing across the pitch after 2010.

The arch supports the 1,7 kilometres of tension cable that runs to the encircling steel compression ring. The roof, made of a glass-fibre membrane, will sit on the cables, while the catwalk for lighting and technical applications will hang off the compression ring.

Another key optical element will be the stadium’s window opening on the south side, the aim of which is to provide a “seamless interface with the rest of the city”, Ellingson says, to offer magnificent views across Durban, for the stadium to be integrated with the people’s park, and for air circulation, which is important for grass to grow.

The north side will have 7 200 square metres of retail area with fan shops and coffee shops open daily. The stadium will meet the requirements of the “Green Guide” with an eight-to-12-minute evacuation time.

Apart from its suites, Mabhida has plenty of event space, including the Presidential Atrium on the west, one of only two glass facade areas with the other being the Ocean Atrium on the east; a big suite area called the Platinum Club on level five and the level-six area that will be converted into offices and suites after 2010, plus the park and concourse. The Presidential Atrium is also the VIP arrival area from the car park on level one.

Moses Mabhida Stadium is due to be completed by August with the follow-up completion by the end of October, eight months before the World Cup kickoff on June 11, 2010. The World Cup is watched by a speculated figure of more than 20 million people over its full period. For a month it will be the stadia, especially the iconic semi-final venues at Moses Mabhida and Greenpoint, and the final venue at the calabash at Soccer City, that will be South Africa’s ambassadors to the world.

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