Eddie Chikamhi Senior Sports Reporter
RESIDENTS of Harare are not happy their interests were not taken into consideration by the Harare City Council following the sudden collapse of the proposed deal with Sakunda Holdings to renovate Rufaro Stadium to a world class football venue.
The residents, through the Harare Residents Trust (HRT), reckoned the botched deal was retrogressive since it negates the city’s own vision to make Harare a world class city by 2025 and Government’s infrastructure development thrust under the National Development Strategy 1.
They also said the Council, as a public institution, should be answerable to their concerns.
“The organisation received the news that Sakunda Holdings wanted to get involved in the renovation and upgrading works on the stadium with excitement, and wished that the processes of getting everything done would be expedited.
“Harare residents want their football back. They want Rufaro Stadium to function and bring back the glory days of legends like George Shaya, Moses Chunga, Stix Mutizwa and David Mandigora among others,” said HRT in a statement.
Rufaro Stadium, which is regarded as the spiritual home of Zimbabwean football, is currently in a state of disrepair due to years of neglect and corruption at the Council.
ZIFA and the other international football organisations such as FIFA and CAF have banned the use of the dilapidated ground for professional football. Stadium inspectors have condemned the venue as unfit and a danger to the public.
But there was a ray of hope earlier this year when Sakunda Holdings and the City of Harare announced they were entering a Memorandum of Understanding to have the stadium renovated to world-class standards.
Sakunda Holdings had budgeted between US$4 million and US$5 million for the project which included rehabilitation of the pitch, upgrading changing rooms, refurbishment of terraces, installation of electronic ticketing system, upgrading of the parking area, rehabilitation of sporting grounds outside Rurafo and the erection of other facilities inclusive of shops, offices, gymnasium, coffee shops and bars outside the stadium.
Sakunda Holdings, who also sponsor local football giants Dynamos and Highlanders as part of their social responsibility thrust, had offered to take up the project through their partnership with DeMbare on a “long lease.”
However, the company last week announced they were pulling out of a proposed deal. They revealed in their letter of termination that they could not continue with the project “given the toxicity” and “a lack of political will on the part of the Council.”
HRT, which represents over 80 000 people of Harare, said the City Fathers should have consulted residents, who now stand as the biggest losers in this scenario.
“The city policymakers and technocrats should facilitate investments that seek to increase the ambience of the capital city from the private sector, both local and international.
“If they have concerns with any of the provisions of the signed memorandum of understanding, they should have the decency of consulting the residents through ward-based consultations at community meetings where they present the proposals on the table from the various investors.
“Despite not sharing their memorandum of understanding with Sakunda Holdings, the City of Harare leadership seems to be only concerned with the duration of the proposed contract but ignoring the need to bring back football to Rufaro Stadium.
“The people want football. If the City of Harare Mayor or other officials decide to adopt a hostile attitude towards Sakunda Holdings investing in Rufaro Stadium, they must not deliberately withhold other sections of their signed MOU but should disclose everything contained therein so that even in the absence of ward-based stakeholders’ consultations, all citizens have an equal chance of reading through the whole document and be more informed,” said the HRT statement.
“The HRT urges all parties, especially the Business, Environment Management and the Health, Housing, Community Services and Licensing Committees to seriously consider the interests of residents first and the future of our children who may be forced to go and watch soccer matches in Zambia and South Africa because we do not have FIFA-approved stadiums.
“Their decision-making should remain non-partisan, professional and timeous to expedite modernisation of Harare’s infrastructure.
“Going forward, the HRT urges the Sakunda Holdings leadership and the City of Harare to sit down and find each other for the sake of football in Harare.
“Rufaro Stadium can bring in the much needed revenues to the council if it is modernised and meets FIFA and CAF requirements,” said the statement.
Another residents’ organisation called Movement Against Zim-Sanctions said the City of Harare should be investigated.
MAZ national chairman Themba Ndebele reckoned the latest setback demonstrated a huge failure by the council and called for the sacking of Mayor, Jacob Mafume.
“Movement Against ZimSanctions MAZ joins Zimbabweans and the football fraternity in calling for the immediate resignation of the Harare City Mayor Jacob Mafume following the deliberate scuttling and the collapse of the refurbishment of Rufaro Stadium deal,” said Ndebele.
“The collapse of the deal between City of Harare and Sakunda Holdings is indeed a sad moment for development in the history of Zimbabwe.
“Philanthropic work by indigenous companies should never be allowed to stall the dreams of our communities.
“A mere incompetent, negligent, boastful and retrogressive Mayor must never be allowed to diminish and wipe out the dreams of current and future soccer players in Zimbabwe, the dreams of football clubs and the dreams of the supporters who happen to be the owners of the game.
“We are aware there is a third hand behind this whole debacle. CCC Party handlers have some bone to chew with Sakunda Holdings. Heads must roll and the Sakunda Holdings deal must be brought back to life.”
Ndebele said the City Fathers have failed in their mandate and were also to blame for the recent relegation of the municipal-owned Harare City FC.
“Honestly what has the City of Harare achieved in the last 20 years for the benefit of the residents?
“Here we are talking of a city council that has sold and subdivided recreational spaces in our communities into residential and commercial stands.
“A council that has sold more than half of the city’s beer halls and in the process promoting drug and substance abuse in our society. A City Council that at one time wanted to sell Harare Gardens.
“And above all a city council that has failed to attract investment in the capital. Here we have a cty council that has mastered the art of scaring away investors.
“Here is a city council that has seen its own football club being relegated from top flight football League in the country Partly because they had no home to play from,” he said.