Stark contrast between money, misery

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:09 AM ET

NELSPRUIT -- The 18 orange girders around the outside of Mbombela Stadium are deceptive.

When you get closer, you see they are really 18 steel giraffes, 48 metres high. Inside the stadium, the 40,000 seats are painted in black and white zebra stripes.

South Africa is deceptive.

Mbombela Stadium is in Nelspruit, a four-hour drive from Johannesburg. It is mostly agricultural country, a cross between Saskatchewan, the foothills of Alberta and the orange groves of Florida.

Nelspruit and its stadium are supposed to represent Africa, perhaps even the new Africa.

But the real Africa, the current Africa and many would say the future Africa, sit in the shadows of the giant giraffes.

Across the paved road from the $137-million stadium is Matafil Township. It is surrounded by steel fencing with an opening that allows access to the houses. Most of them are mud-walled, sheet metal or planked wood.

Outhouses dot the area. Residents sit outside their homes, many staring at the stadium no more than a stone's throw from where they live.

The stadium is built on their land.

In one of the starkest examples of the kind of contrast South Africa represents, World Cup organizers decided to spend millions on a stadium that will stage four games. It is state of the art and stands in all it's glory, an affront to the several thousands who live across from it.

It is inconceivable that the government and World Cup organizers could be so callous in building the stadium without taking care of the people who allowed them to do it.

Mbombela Stadium is the most controversial of all the stadia built in South Africa.

Organizers negotiated with the Matsafani for the land, finally convincing them to give up the land in exchange for promises of new housing, roads, water and sewer mains.

The land exchanged hands for one rand, at that time 13 cents. It's been more than five years and nothing has happened.

Residents took the case to court and were awarded $1 million but they have seen neither money nor improvements.

Two schools were torn down to make room for the stadium. There were promises that they would be rebuilt elsewhere. Instead, students now must study in makeshift structures and there is no sign of any new school taking shape.

Meanwhile, the stadium was built under the stink of corruption and perhaps murder. Six men who complained about contracts being let without tender have been found murdered.

Wetlands were filled in without concern for the environment or surrounding area.

But all of that may as well be as far away as the moon as far as the Matsafani are concerned.

The World Cup may as well be played on the moon. No one seemed particularly concerned whether Italy or New Zealand would win the game about to be played in the stadium.

Pirini Spiniwe sits at the entrance of Matafil. Tupperware containers fill the table in front of her. She has made food she hopes to sell but she has no customers.

"They (organizers) don't let anyone come this way," she said. "That was our land and we have been waiting so long. We were told we would get new houses. We keep filling out forms and they take them away and we hear nothing."

Spiniwe says no one has jobs.

"They won't let us go near the fence. They just take their wives (into the stadium) to work and we sit here. We have so very little. We are forgotten. No one cares."

The Matsafani are patient, friendly people who are unfazed when you walk into their community. There is a resignation in their speech and body language. They are likely used to seeing this type of interest as the games are played practically outside their front door.

Some still dare to hope that when the World Cup is over, the government will fulfill their promises. But life's experiences have taught them otherwise.

"We have to have hope," said 25-year-old Welcome Mashabane. "You can't stop. Maybe when the World Cup is over and there is more time, they will remember us. I will say they will because I can't say that nothing will come."

Joseph Ndloue owns a mud-walled home. His father sits on a chair with his back against the wall. His wife is cooking on an open fire and four or five children are milling about the home.

He asks for 20 rand ($3) for some cold drinks.

"This is my home," he says proudly. "I think it is just time. (The government) will take time and then maybe they will do what they say they will ... if not ..."

When told it's been more than five years, he shrugs and walks away.

The majestic orange-giraffe girders look down on his house and on the thousands who go the games.

"Welcome to South Africa," they seem to say.


Videos

Photos