The Sunday Mail
ZIFA has taken a dig at Harare City Council for “dragging politics into sport” after Sakunda Holdings formally withdrew their proposal to modernise Rufaro Stadium, citing “toxicity” in the local authority’s attitude.
The association’s acting president, Gift Banda, described the collapse of the deal as a sad day for football.
The traditional home of Zimbabwe’s flagship sport has been condemned by the Confederation of African Football (CAF).
Banda, who is coincidentally a former deputy mayor of Bulawayo City Council, feels Harare mayor Jacob Mafume and the city fathers had politicised what should have been a purely business deal.
He, however, remains optimistic that the deal can be salvaged, arguing that the modernisation of Rufaro and other facilities such as Gwanzura should not be scuppered to satisfy personal egos.
ZIFA fears Rufaro Stadium will continue to deteriorate as parties continue bickering.
“What Sakunda had done was the right way. There is nothing political in sport. Politics should not be dragged into sport and football in particular,” Banda said.
He questioned the rationale behind the city council’s rejection of the deal, when the iconic stadium – which was the venue for the country’s maiden independence celebrations, where the Zimbabwe flag was first hoisted in 1980 – had become decrepit.
The facility has even been banned from hosting local Premier Soccer League matches because of its sorry state.
In fact, it last hosted Premiership matches in 2019.
“Sakunda would have helped us to get Rufaro to become a CAF and FIFA-accepted stadium. “In any case, how much revenue is Harare City making at the moment from that stadium vis-à-vis what they are spending on maintenance?
“City of Harare was supposed to try and assist in coming up with a solid contract that was beneficial to everyone and not close out a corporate that is trying to assist,” Banda said.
PSL chairperson Farai Jere and his Northern Region Soccer League (NRSL) Division One counterpart Martin Kweza were similarly hugely disappointed with the news that Sakunda had been frustrated out of the deal.
Seven of the 18 clubs in the PSL are based in Harare and could do with a functional Rufaro Stadium.
Premiership sides Black Rhinos, CAPS United, Cranborne Bullets, Dynamos, Herentals, Yadah Stars and the municipality’s own team Harare City are from the capital.
“This was a very important investment in football and it was going to benefit generations to come, and this is something we need to look at from that perspective,” said Jere.
Kweza, whose NRSL had a vibrant 2022 season, noted that Rufaro’s proximity to a number of high-density suburbs in the capital made it an ideal football venue for many fans.
NRSL successfully staged the Axis Solutions Super 8 cup final between Golden Eagles and Simba Bhora at Rufaro on October 22.
“I am heartbroken, to say the least.
“I was already envisaging a new Rufaro in the mould of FNB Stadium (South Africa’s World Cup stadium) on completion,” Kweza said.
“I could see the appetite of football people to come back to the home of football, particularly when we hosted the Axis Super 8 cup final. “A refurbished Rufaro was going to bring a new dawn for Zimbabwean football, and now this?
“I sincerely hope the two parties will find each other and resolve the issues currently obtaining for the sake of Rufaro Stadium, the rich history that it carries and soccer-loving Zimbabweans.”
In their letter of withdrawal from the deal, Sakunda said council’s hostile disposition had made the deal untenable.
“Following our numerous unsuccessful requests to present to your office our final feasibility study report and proposed designs for the refurbishment of Rufaro Stadium, we write to express our gravest misgivings on the unfortunate events and communications emanating from your (HCC) office,” reads the letter written by Sakunda Holdings chief operating officer Mberikwazvo Chitambo.
“We are shocked and disturbed by untruthful and malicious reports that Sakunda intends to purchase Rufaro Stadium, which is a public asset. Nothing could be further from the truth, and we believe you know that.
“The unfounded allegations are grounded on malice and a coordinated attempt to curtail our efforts to contribute to the revival and modernisation of public infrastructure.”
The company, however, decided to donate all the project designs and plans to HCC “in the public interest”.
This is not the first time that private companies have pulled out of the deal to revamp Rufaro, the venue of epic battles such as the CAF Champions League clashes featuring Dynamos against Egyptian giants Ah Ahly and Zamalek, including the famous Harare derby games between DeMbare and CAPS United.
There are questions on how council, which has been leaving Rufaro to deteriorate over the last few years, could suddenly claim to have the resources to refurbish the venue.
Mafume told the media that corruption was partly to blame for previous failures to spruce up council’s sporting facilities.
“I think we have done the best that we can.
“But do we have a plan for the stadium? Yes, we have a plan,” said Mafume.
He said the issue will be discussed at their next council meeting, where they hope to convince councillors to ring-fence revenues from Rufaro Marketing’s beer levies and City Parking for stadium development.
Rufaro is not the only council facility that is derelict.
Gwanzura Stadium in Highfield is in desperate need of refurbishment.
The pitch at the famous venue that used to be the home of CAPS United and the now-defunct Black Aces is currently a maize field.
The poor state of Dzivarasekwa Stadium and the adjacent Community Hall is just a microcosm of a bigger problem facing Harare.
The city’s once-vibrant sports centres are now virtually all decrepit.
From Mbare, Mufakose, Glen Norah to Highfield, the story is the same.
Some blame the HCC for neglecting their duty of maintaining these facilities.
Zimbabwe Grounds in Highfield, which were once green and good enough to attract PSL clubs like Black Aces and CAPS United as training grounds in the 1990s, now resemble a desert wasteland.