The Mpumalanga government has spent R256 million preparing to construct an athlete training centre and cultural hub that no one is certain will even materialise because no investors have shown an interest over the past nine years.
Despite the uncertainty about whether any investors will come forward to see the dream of producing top local sportspeople and artists come to fruition, the provincial culture, sports and recreation department continues to pour millions into the project.
The training centre and cultural hub are the brainchild of Deputy President David Mabuza’s cabinet when he was still premier of the province. At some point, Mabuza announced that the Emakhazeni High Altitude Training Centre could not go ahead because the Portuguese government pulled out due to the global economic meltdown that began in 2008.
Mabuza had said that construction was expected to start as early as the 2012/13 financial year, but it did not and, in the following years, nothing much was reported about the progress of the project.
Due to the astronomical cost to complete both the training centre and cultural hub, the Mpumalanga cabinet had approved the R9 billion project hoping that private investors would come on board. But no investor has shown interest since the projects were conceptualised back in 2011.
The Emakhazeni High Altitude Training Centre will be situated in the coal mining and farming town of Belfast along the N4 highway.
At 2 100m above sea level, it is the ideal place for athlete training, which is already attracting runners, cyclists and ice skaters from all over the world who visit the nearby tourist town of Dullstroom for their training programmes in preparation for major events.
It is projected that the centre will cost R5.2 billion on completion and will cater for popular sporting codes such as soccer, swimming, rugby, running, boxing, wrestling, basketball and cricket. Less popular sports such as judo, karate, kayaking, cycling and gymnastics will also be part of the centre’s programme.
The public works department continues to invite bidders for bulk infrastructure construction. Recently, the department advertised a tender for the construction of a high-capacity reservoir. A total of R112.3 million has already been spent on the project.
Mpumalanga culture, sport and recreation spokesperson Sibongile Nkosi defended the continuing expenditure on the project, emphasising that government was laying the ground for potential investors to find bulk infrastructure and services in place.
“Government has not yet secured private investment for the high altitude training centre. The proposed provision of bulk services on site seeks to give government commitment on the project.
“This will also serve as an important enabler for government in its endeavour to attract private investment,” Nkosi said.
She said the R112.3 million was used to purchase land where the centre will be built, to conduct an environmental impact assessment, and for designing the buildings, drawing up a master plan and drafting a bankable feasibility study.
Nkosi said she was not sure when the project would be completed as everything depended on private-sector investment.
“This is a multiyear project, and its completion date will be determined after an investor has been secured,” she said.
The cultural hub, which will be established in White River to train and produce creative artists including musicians and actors, as well as television and film producers, has so far cost government R143.8 million.
On completion, the cultural hub is expected to have cost R3.8 billion.
Nkosi said a piece of land measuring 20.9 hectares had been secured.
The R143.8 million was spent on concept designs, architectural services, civic and civil engineering services, mechanical and electrical engineering services, and a draft bankable feasibility study.
EFF Mpumalanga chairperson Collen Sedibe said investors were not coming on board because they doubted that there would be a return on their investment.
“The money spent so far in the high altitude project and cultural hub and the work done does not match and leaves much to be desired.
“What is more worrisome is that the department requested more money for the completion of the project during the second Appropriation Bill Adjustment, whereas millions have been spent so far.
“I think this is what makes the investors scared to invest in this project as they doubt that the will be a return on investment,” Sedibe said.