The empty stadiums: South Africa’s white elephants - Monocolumn | Monocle


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21 October 2010

What should a city do with a football stadium no one uses, sitting on prime land in the centre of town? Demolish it, you say.

The answer would be simpler were the question not over the future of the new but already iconic Cape Town stadium, completed only six months ago for the World Cup at a cost of R4.5bn (€460m).

The stadium, on Green Point Common, has been controversial since before it was even built. Many Capetonians believe it should have been built at Athlone, on the impoverished Cape Flats, where most of the city’s football fans live. There, a club might have been found for it after the World Cup. But the world football’s governing body, Fifa, insisted on the city centre location, offering Cape Town a semi-final on the condition that it be played well out of sight of shacks and poverty. The government and local organising committee acquiesced. The then mayor of Cape Town, Helen Zille, won round her citizens by securing Stade de France – the French company that manages Paris’s top stadium – to operate the venue after the World Cup.

Stade de France, who were due to take charge on 1 November for 30 years, have now backed out of the deal saying its shareholders are not prepared to support the “projected substantial losses” it will incur. Servicing the stadium and keeping the pitch in shape costs €45m a year.

Capetonians are divided over whether the stadium is an elegant icon or a useless monument to South Africa’s excessive spending on the World Cup. Other stadiums – such as the 45,000-seater Mbombela stadium in Nelspruit, which cost R1.3bn (€134m), and the Peter Mokaba stadium in Polokwane (cost: R1.25m) were always expected to become white elephants. But Cape Town’s stylish stadium was the most expensive of the 10 World Cup venues, leading everyone to believe that the number crunchers considered it sustainable.

“Demolishing the stadium would be an act of vandalism,” says Mokena Makeka, a columnist for the Cape Times. “The stadium is an asset that has firmly positioned Cape Town in the pantheon of global cities,” he says.

“Demolish it,” writes Cape Argus reader Graham Greathead in a letter to the daily, adding: “It is not designed for anything other than World Cup soccer, it occupies valuable ground and is, to top it all, an eyesore.”

Given that the city of Cape Town is under tremendous pressure to provide running water and toilets in poor areas, it cannot justify maintaining the stadium empty.

The only solution offered by planners is to convince Western Union Rugby to move to the stadium from their legendary home at Newlands, a wealthy suburb. But WP Rugby are said to be reluctant to leave the ground they own in favour of leasing a stadium they consider unsuitable for rugby.


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