Stink of scandal from South Africa's 'giraffe stadium'

By Hugh Sykes
BBC News, Nelspruit

Image caption,
Mbombela Stadium is more commonly known as "giraffe stadium"

When Lassy Chiwayo, the South African mayor of Mbombela municipality, received a text message on his mobile phone, it told him to keep his evidence to himself, warning "or you will go to your place in a coffin".

Mbombela is a local government district that includes the busy town of Nelspruit near the Kruger game park in eastern South Africa, close to the Mozambique border.

His evidence relates to an allegedly corrupt tender process for constructing parts of the new World Cup stadium near Nelspruit, where holders Italy are to play their second match.

The former speaker of Mbombela municipality, Jimmy Mohlala, also said he had evidence that tenders for the stadium had been improperly awarded.

Mr Mohlala is now dead.

At least three other men have been killed in connection with this affair, and another three have died strangely - possibly after being poisoned.

It is believed there is one killer - and that he lives across the border in Mozambique.

Police, however, say none of the murders are linked to World Cup tenders.

The stadium has been built and it is striking.

It has been designed to reflect one of the wild animals that visitors flock to the Kruger game park to see.

The gantries and buttresses that hold up the roof and the stands look like giant giraffes.

Broken promises

Local people love it. Even those who live in shacks in Matsafeni village right next to it love their new "giraffe stadium".

But they would also like to have mains water and electricity - and proper housing. And a tar road.

Image caption,
Despite the controversy the stadium is well loved by local residents

That is the other scandal associated with the new World Cup venue near Nelspruit.

Mbombela council promised the people of Matsafeni that the building of the stadium would be matched by improvements to the village. But nothing happened.

Two young men, Roni Slatchayo and Thulane Kosa, told me that the water they do have - from a public tank - is not even clean.

Two cheerful young women stop me to chat.

"Life is good," they say in unison.

But rain gets through the roof of their shack. And dust penetrates their belongings.

There is a smart new road leading up to Mbombela Stadium, but it stops dead at the entrance to Matsafeni.

The construction traffic uses Matsafeni's main street to access the back of the stadium. No-one thought to tar the street first, to keep the dust down.

At the Good Hope Centre, the co-ordinator Ntombifuti Nyoni watches over 100 children in her toddlers' creche as construction lorries and graders send clouds of dust into the playground.

Ms Nyoni admires the stadium too, and recognises that it has provided urgently needed short-term jobs - but she does not think it will do the community much good once the World Cup has come to an end.

In his office, Mayor Chiwayo immediately acknowledged all these complaints - and said Matsafeni would now get water, electricity, decent housing and a proper road.

He suggested I come back in three months to see for myself.

He told me the fault lay with his predecessors, who had been far too focussed on the riches they could gain from the building of the stadium, and had neglected the urgent needs of the village.

He told me that this failure "could be likened to a crime against humanity".

And the death threat Mr Chiwayo has received? Is he properly protected? He pauses before he responds.

"We have taken certain measures," he said, "but there are 24 hours in a day."

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