Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
WHEN we launched the Fix Our Grounds campaign recently, the reaction from some circles was that we were wrong, and misguided, and we took quite a real battering from them.
But, we also received overwhelming support from others, who felt this was long overdue, concerned citizens who understood the pathetic state of our stadiums.
These are people who, just like us, were fed up with this depressing tale of lies, which we have been fed by those tasked with maintaining our stadiums, who have been promising that they will do something, to bring back glamour to the facilities, but yet did nothing.
Our journey started last December, when this newspaper toured Gwanzura, Rufaro and Dzivaresekwa stadiums and we highlighted the embarrassing poor state of the three facilities.
Gwanzura, which used to be the spiritual home of football in the capital before Rufaro was built, had not hosted a domestic Premiership game for five years after the top-flight league’s bosses were concerned the raw sewage, which was spilling onto the pitch, was now a health hazard to the players and officials.
Dzvivaresekwa had been off the radar longer, abandoned even by the Harare City Council officials who were supposed to maintain it, and its stands were collapsing, the security wall was disappearing and the playing surface had not been attended to in more than seven years.
Chibuku in Chitungwiza, Lafarge in Mabvuku and even the National Sports Stadium were also in various states of decay.
We launched the FOG campaign because we were so sure that, if we highlight the crisis we were facing, this would force authorities to refurbish the country’s football grounds, which had been condemned by the Confederation of African Football.
We highlighted that Gwanzura now appeared like a ghost facility, a stadium left behind by time and the changing seasons, a facility which the authorities left to crumble into something that now looks like a haunted ground, where even vampires won’t dare to play their ball games.
We chronicled how various groups of Harare City Council officials had toured Gwanzura, taken the media on tours of deception and shame, promising they would fix the stadiums, came up with budgets for the refurbishments, and even a time-line of when they would reopen the ground.
And, we revealed that the whole country had been sold a dummy by council officials, preaching the gospel of angels when, in actual fact they were merchants of doom, who painted an image that they were about to renovate the stadiums, only for them to do nothing in the last few years.
We showed that on March 22, 2017, the then Harare City’s acting town clerk, Josephine Ncube, said her council was working on renovating Rufaro and they were expecting to start erecting bucket seats and introducing Wi-Fi at the stadium and, by the end of April, the ground would be ready.
We reminded the nation that she said a contractor, Highmel Investments, had been hired to be part of the Rufaro facelift and there was no need for the domestic football family to continue worrying.
“In terms of Wi-Fi we have an arrangement with a local provider and you will see that Wi-Fi will be available at Rufaro and also at Gwanzura this coming season,” Ncube told The Herald.
“In terms of the bucket seats, they are already on our budget for council and we will start putting bucket seats this year and we are also going to put up an electronic scoreboard at Rufaro.”
That was in 2017, this is 2020, and nothing has moved — there was no Wi-Fi at Rufaro, only a few bucket seats were erected in the VVIP Enclosure, there is no electronic scoreboard at the stadium and the state of the pitch, and other facilities at the ground are worse off than back then.
She wasn’t the only one knitting this gospel of deception. We revealed that in April 2017, Harare City Council officials revealed they had set aside $150 000 to renovate Gwanzura with councillors resolving to invoke the powers vested in the then 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.”
The refurbishments, according to council, would target enlarging the changing rooms, refurbish public toilets, referees changing room and terraces. Council also wants to construct a medical room, ticket room, repair the security wall, and upgrade turnstiles and media area.
It would also replace the playing turf with kikuyu lawn and attend to the sewer backflow challenges.
More than three years later, nothing had happened.
Then, we also revealed, that on October 4 2018, the same Harare City Council said they had committed over $700 000 for the refurbishment of Gwanzura ahead of the 2019-2020 Premiership 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,” Council spokesperson, Michael 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.”
However, more than 14 months later, nothing has changed at Gwanzura and no one knows what happened to the $700 000 which was said to have been earmarked for the refurbishment.
We revealed last month that FIFA were sitting on US$2,4 million of ZIFA’s unclaimed funds, by the end of 2018, the bulk of which could have been used by the association for development of infrastructural projects.
The funds were part of the first cycle of the Forward Development Programme.
We also showed that the Football Association of Malawi renovated their 10 000-seater Mpira stadium, which opened its doors last year, using some of the funds earmarked by FIFA for such purposes.
We warned of dire consequences, if people didn’t react to the crisis we were facing and take remedial action but, unfortunately, our pleas appear to have fallen on deaf ears.
Yesterday, our fears came to pass when CAF outlawed all the local stadiums from hosting international matches which means that, for the first time in their history, the Warriors will be forced to play their next AFCON qualifier on neutral soil.
It’s embarrassing and, sadly, it appears, there are some people who simply don’t care.