Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
GEORGE SHAYA’S name provided the soundtrack to the grand occasion, as the Soccer Stars of the Year awards celebrated their Golden Jubilee in Harare last night, with the former Dynamos superstar being feted for winning the gong five times.
The legendary forward also set the benchmark, for the excellence that should be rewarded with the award, by winning the inaugural Soccer Star of the Year gong in 1969.
But, while Shaya’s name provided a throwback to a time when this award was reserved only for the finest footballers, and represented a true celebration of excellence, it also provided an ugly reminder of how things have turned for the worse in domestic football. For, when Shaya won the inaugural Soccer Star of the Year in 1969, the theatre where he paraded his magic for the DeMbare fans in their home matches, was Gwanzura.
Rufaro, which is now the spiritual home of these Glamour Boys, was only opened three years later in 1972.
While Shaya still lives to his day, and his landmark success in the inaugural Soccer Stars of the Year awards was fondly remembered last night as a milestone moment in the history of domestic football, the playground where he used to display his magic back then, is now an eyesore.
Gwanzura now appears like a ghost facility.
A stadium left behind by time and the changing seasons, a facility which the authorities forgot to crumble into something that now looks like a haunted ground, where even vampires won’t dare to play their ball games in the dead of the night.
Reduced into a shell by those tasked with preserving its beauty, and all the memories that Gwanzura carries, including its legacy as the oldest football stadium built in this country.
Transformed into a skeleton by people whose responsibility was to simply ensure, at worst, it retains the bare conditions where the likes of Shaya could express their skills.
Gwanzura has not hosted a Premiership match for four years now since the Premier Soccer League, concerned the raw sewage from its old pipes, which kept spilling onto the pitch, would endanger the health of players and match officials, barred it from staging their games. Players and officials had also complained raw sewage also spilled into the old dressing rooms while there were serious concerns over the security of referees.
Since then, various groups of Harare City Council officials have toured Gwanzura, taken the media on a tour of deception and shame, promised they would fix the stadium, came up with budgets for the refurbishments, and even a timeline of when they would reopen the ground.
But, as another year crawls to an end, nothing has happened.
In April 2017, Harare City Council officials revealed they had set aside $150 000 to renovate Gwanzura with councilors resolving to invoke the powers vested in Mayor Bernard Manyenyeni to find the funds for the exercise.
“Following discussions, the committee noted the urgency of the matter and resolved that subject to the approval of His Worship, the Mayor, council approves the refurbishment of Gwanzura Stadium to meet ZIFA and PSL standards at an estimated cost of $150 000 for use during the 2017 PSL season.’’
More than 30 months later, nothing has happened and Manyenyeni has since been replaced by another mayor while there are also some new faces among the councillors.
A visit by The Herald in December 2017, showed that the stadium was still in a poor state, with a gaping hole on a section of the pre-cast wall and rusty gates and turnstiles greeting visitors to the Highfield venue.
“We have already started in terms of clearing the existing lawn so that we can put a new lawn. We are refurbishing the stadium to make it come up to the right standard,” City spokesperson, Michael Chideme, said back then.
“Gwanzura Stadium is going to be done in phases. So, the first phase will involve the turf. We are anticipating that all the work around the stadium will be completed by mid-2018. But before that, the turf will be ready for use.’’
In about three weeks’ time, the world will welcome a new decade and Gwanzura remains what it was two years ago – abandoned, forgotten and neglected.
In October last year, the same Harare City Council officials were singing a different tune, saying they had committed $700 000 to the refurbishment of Gwanzura ahead of the start of this football season.
“The Harare City Council will in the coming weeks start the full-scale refurbishment of one of our sporting facilities, Gwanzura Stadium in Highfield,’’ Chideme said.
“The council has set aside $700 000 for the work. The first aspect is to address the issue of water supply to which the City Council has already made payment for borehole drilling.
“The contractor engaged for the turf attendance will be on the ground as soon as the installation of the borehole is completed. The contractor for the turf will also address drainage issues.’’
The security wall and the changing rooms would also be refurbished and, according to Chideme, bucket seats will be installed across the stadium with work on the seats expected to be completed in July this year.
“There is also this issue of bucket seats for the stadium. We will place them across the stadium, although we will have to do that in phases. All in all, the stadium will be ready by April 2019,” Chideme said.
Five months after the scheduled completion of the installation of bucket seats, not even one has been installed at Gwanzura.
After being frustrated by Chitungwiza Town Councillors, in his bid to renovate Chibuku, Prophet Walter Magaya turned to Gwanzura but, once again, ran into similar challenges. Incredibly, in February this year, Harare City Council officials announced they intended to build a multi-million dollar stadium in the High Glen area of the capital, within four years, and even released the artistic images of the project.
They also said refurbishment of Gwanzura and Dzivaresekwa stadiums would also be done this year. It sparked outrage, among residents of the capital, who questioned how a City Council which had left Gwanzura, Dzivaresekwa and Rufaro to rot, could have the capacity to build such a state-of-the-art stadium.
Questions are now being asked if the city fathers really care about these facilities or, as in the case of the so-called facelift of Rufaro which left the stadium in a poorer state, this is now just another money-making venture by those who use the grounds to enrich themselves.