World Cup stadium sparked tension

World Cup stadium sparked tension

Published Mar. 1, 2010 10:17 a.m. ET

The roof of the stadium build in Nelspruit for the World Cup is supported by a circle of 18 iron giraffes, 90 feet high and painted orange, which look as is they were designed by a gifted preschooler.

The seats are black and white, arranged in a zebra-stripe pattern. The stylized signs on the bathrooms are of men and women kicking balls.

In short, the building seems too playful to have been the source of so much trouble.

Municipal officials had sealed a deal for the land on which the stadium sat in exchange for developing the area around it, home to orchard workers who were living without electricity, running water or paved roads.


The land was owned by the black Mdluli clan, which had seen it taken by a white farmer in the 1920s. The clan, descendants of a 19th century Swazi chief named Matsafeni Mdluli, appealed to a land restitution board instituted by the post-apartheid government. After eight years of negotiating, they were able to reclaim 6,000 hectares in 2003.

The Mdlulis accepted a token rand (about 10 cents) for 69 hectares of their hard-won property in 2006. The next year, stadium construction began. But the Mdlulis and other poor blacks living in the area waited in vain for construction on promised schools, roads and water and electricity projects to begin.

It looked, said M.T. Silinda, a Nelspruit lawyer appointed as a trustee for the Mdlulis in 2008, as if the government restored the land to poor blacks only to take it back for the World Cup. The national government intervened, demanding the city make it right, said Lassy Chiwayo, sent to Nelspruit by the governing African National Congress to revive local government in 2008.

The government of the province that includes Nelspruit had taken over running the municipality after charges and countercharges of corruption in the awarding of contracts for World Cup work brought government to a standstill.

After the national government intervened, surveyors put a value on the land and the Mdlulis were paid about $140,000, Mokoena said.

In addition to the payment, the municipality remained committed to developing the area, at no cost to the Mdlulis. Work finally started on the new schools last year, and students are expected to move out of their cramped prefabs before the World Cup begins.

Terry Mdluli, a clan leader, shows little bitterness now.

``If it was not for the World Cup, we wouldn't be seeing all this development, especially on our land,'' he said.