I returned to Berlin from South Africa a few days ago after a sojourn of 14 weeks. The last two weeks were imposed resulting from mother nature spilling its bowels in remote Iceland. Never mind. It was a good and restful trip and offered an insight to the happenings in the country in view of the oncoming FIFA Cup Finals.
It was refreshing to know that the pundits of doom were wrong. Who will forget the outcry when FIFA awarded the running of the tournament to Africa, and South Africa managed to get its neck past the finishing line ahead of Morocco and Egypt?
The gutter media, especially here in Germany and England, spared no effort to paint the dirtiest pictures of the inability of the African “monkeys and barbarians” to cope with such a massive project. Not a day passed without horror stories of the happenings in the land at the bottom end of the African continent emerging in their columns and Plan B was always in the offing. A certain Mr Uli Hoeness even had the gall to say he was against the African project from the word go. He even threatened not to attend the tournament. I can advise this gentleman – stay at home and tend to your polony shop. We don’t need the likes of you in our country.
But those responsible for the project, together with massive aid and support from the South African Government, and international well-wishers, including Germany and England, went about their task with a determination to undermine the Afro-pessimism reigning in some quarters. President Jacob Zuma , in assessing the preparations for the World Cup, said: “It is in our hands to unite our country, our continent and the world in a foot-balling feast. It is in our hands to recast our country as a nation of peace, a place of prosperity, and a mainstay of progress on the African continent”. He went on to add: “The World Cup has not only revitalised our economy, but has also given impetus to infrastructural development and job creation”.
In exactly one month (11 June) South Africa’s Bafana Bafana will run on to the field in Soccer City in Johannesburg to welcome their guest Mexico. Thereafter, the African continent, and the world can sit back and relax to a great soccer feast played in some of the most beautiful stadia in the world.
Speaking to the press in Durban to mark the 100th (1st March) day before kick-off, FIFA President Sepp Blatter was full of praise for the all-round efforts of the LOC (Local Organising Committee) for the architectural and legacy programmes to the 10 new playing fields. He has no doubt that many of these will enter architectural history. Without doubt these are works of art of which South Africans can be very proud. President Zuma calls them crown jewels of the World Cup.
I had the opportunity of visiting the Moses Mabhida Stadium (MMS) in Durban. This is something very close to my heart. Not only is it a beautiful structure, but it bears the name of a bosom friend and fellow revolutionary. I had the honour to work with Moses in Durban as well as in exile. I am very proud that South Africa has not forgotten its children who gave of their best to bring about the democratic order that we have since the past 16 years.
Moses Mabhida was born in the Pietermaritzburg area on 4 October 1923 and became a trade union activist at a very early age. He was forced into exile in 1960 and represented the trade unions and the African National Congress in the international arena. He died in Maputo, Mozambique on 8 March 1986.
ANC President Oliver Tambo, in a eulogy at his state funeral in Maputo said that Moses Mabhida had been educated “in the stern university of mass struggle. It is rarely given to a people that they should produce a single person who epitomises their hopes and expresses their common resolve as Moses Mabhida did. In simple language he could convey the aspirations of all our people in their magnificent variety, explain the fears and prejudices of the unorganised, and sense the feelings of even the most humble among our people”.
Twenty years later, in 2006, the remains of Moses Mabhida were exhumed from Maputo and buried in Pietermaritzburg.
Our visit to the stadium went off without much ado or bureaucracy. Our guide was Sandhya Nankoo, a local young lady who gave us a complete low down of this new landmark of Durban. In addition to my wife, nephew and his wife, we were attached to an Italian group who were making a survey of all the playing fields that will be used for the World Cup. Although they were very impressed with what South Africa has created in the past few years, the Moses Mabhida Stadium (MMS) was the one that really and truly caught the eyes of our Italian colleagues.
It was not difficult to measure the pride in the eyes of our guide. We were told that the MMS has been designed as a symbol of the unification of a nation with a passion for sport. The stadium has a normal capacity of 56 000 but will be extended to 70 000 for the World Cup which will also host one of the semi-finals.
The iconic arch, inspired by the Y-shape of the South African flag will
become a world first tourist attraction as it will feature a high-tech cable car designed to take visitors up to its highest point. Passengers can disembark to enjoy a panoramic view of the stadium and the city of Durban.
This project provided more than 13 000 jobs and saw the creation of the Moses Mabhida Training Centre, which in turn has provided skills to many of the workers. It has become a symbol for the City of Durban (eThekwini) and has highlighted the ability to host most of the Olympic disciplines within a single sporting zone.
Colleen Dardagan, writing in The Mercury (Durban –2nd March) just cannot believe her eyes when she wrote: “Looking at the iconic arches of the R3.1 billion (9 rand to the euro) Moses Mabhida Stadium which rise into the azure blue of KwaZulu Natal sky, with the golden beaches within walking distance of the glass-smooth green pitch where the world’s best football stars will battle it out for the greatest prize in the sport, the months and years of preparation all seem to have gone by in the blink of an eye”. This was one of the biggest grumbles of the detractors. That the playing fields will not be complete in time.
It is not without pride that we were informed that Durban hosted South Africa’s first football league in 1882 – now 127 years later, this city of fusion and the biggest port in Africa, will be an integral part of the first FIFA World Cup to be held on African soil.
The last word goes without doubt to eThekwini Mayor Obed Mlaba. “Using the World Cup as a catalyst for development that will provide the platform for future economic growth, we already have the state-of-art Moses Mabhida Stadium that provides Durban with a world class defining landmark, similar to Sydney’s Opera House or The London Eye. That’s in addition to being a multifunctional sports venue designed and built in accordance with the latest international safety and security requirements, and one able to host soccer, rugby, and athletic meetings as well as concerts, cultural events and more”.
By Eric Singh, ANA Senior Contributing Editor