Tsholotsho stadium: Big project that never was

IMMEDIATELY after Jonathan Moyo bounced back into Parliament after winning the Tsholotsho North seat, one of his major projects to kickstart his commitment to his constituency was to construct a $4,5 million stadium just a few yards from the business centre.

The initiative followed the promotion to the topflight league of the Mandla Manyathela-owned and sponsored Tsholotsho FC in 2014. As a result, it was meant to avail the people of Tsholotsho an opportunity to see their beloved team play Zimbabwe’s big teams in their own backyard.

Backed by the community, the dream to have a stadium modelled around Mandava Stadium in Zvishavane seemed all possible with a reasonable short time frame being given.

So fast was everything with the government taking over construction of the stadium as the then minister of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Moyo pulled all strings to have the project that was also going to boost his political image come to fruition.

A team of engineers from the ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, led by chief civil engineer Edward Njoma toured the site so was a leading civil engineering and construction company, J R Goddard Construction as the main contractor who immediately set a five-point work plan in motion.

Also roped in for the project was internationally-recognised Mota-Engil.

Mota-Engil is a Portuguese industrial conglomerate. Its principal activities included civil engineering and construction of infrastructure including bridges, dams, industrial buildings, schools, chimneys and roads.

The company has operations in Europe, Africa and America.

Then, Moyo said it was unfortunate that Tsholotsho FC will play its home matches  during the first half of the season away describing it as “an unnecessary punishment for a rural team”.

“This isn’t history in the making but its history that’s been made. No team in the history of this country has been promoted into the Premier Soccer League from a rural background,” Moyo told delegates during one of the tours.
But the stadium would not have come without its own controversies as sooner than later a dispute arose over its unusual source of funding — elephant hunting.

Under the then minister of Environment Saviour Kasukuwere, the Tsholotsho Rural District Council (RDC) was issued with hunting permits for some 70 elephants, with the funds raised  from the hunt to be put towards building the stadium and only ten elephants were released but later stopped.

As soon as Oppah Muchinguri took over the ministry under a Cabinet reshuffle by President Robert Mugabe in July last year coincidentally, the project stalled forcing the chairperson of Tsholotsho RDC, Alois Ndebele to accuse her of sabotaging the project by blocking pre-sanctioned elephant hunts, the funds from which would be used to start building the stadium in Tsholotsho.

But Muchinguri-Kashiri dismissed the claims, arguing the hunts had been suspended after elephants were killed in the area by poachers laying cyanide.

Tsholotsho borders Hwange National Park, where scores of elephants were killed by poachers using the poison in 2015, with most of the elephants having their tusks removed, in a development which triggered international outcry.

Besides all that, without enough funding, all the zeal and the timelines that had been put for the completion of the project all came to naught.

A recent visit by the WeekendPost crew revealed that the unfinished toilets, foundation trenches and over grown shrubs stood as the only notable features on a clearly deserted place.

Community members who spoke to this paper expressed sadness over the set back.
“Obviously, it’s something that touches us as a community, especially considering all the effort and pledges that we as a ?community had offered just to get it completed,” said Mehluli Hadebe.

“Minister Moyo had given us all the support but somehow it just went down as you can see but we just hoping all will be well and one day it will get back to serious business,” he said.

Ward 22 councillor Phumuzile Dube said the project could have brought more life to the low key area.
“Our hope was that, if the stadium was completed, we were going to see our business centre becoming livelier because ?teams from all over the country could be coming to play and possibly sleep or camp here while supporters will come and sleep here and that means more business,” Dube said.

“It was also going to encourage talent development as the young boys here will be inspired and have confidence that through soccer someone can lead a successful life,” Dube said.

Another councillor, Canaan Ndlovu, said the stadium could have been the turning point of Tsholotsho District in many ways.

“That project is a community thing, it’s our initiative, and if it gets completed we are going to be the biggest beneficiaries. We were expecting a business boom and increase employment to our own children.

Even during the construction process many were going to be employed.

“But above all entertainment was going to be part of us as well.

“Imagine we only hear about some football stars on the radios but now this was going to be the opportunity to see them right here in Tsholotsho.”

Ndlovu, however, refused to delve into the reasons why the construction has been halted.
“This is a case that was handled by the government so I might not be privy to the real issues but the bottom line is lack of funding.”

Former Tsholotsho senator Believe Gaule, who is the club board chair, said had the stadium been completed in time as per the initial schedule, the team could not have been wallowing in the relegation zone.

“Trust me, our team is in its low position today because of lack of home ground. Had all the teams been coming this side where we have our own support base, we could be up there with the others,” Gaule said.

Asked about the reasons that led to the stoppage, Gaule said: “The blame lies squarely on the government for they failed to release money for the completion.

“We had been given 70 elephants to hunt and sell then we get money for construction, but when the new minister Muchinguri took over from Kasukuwere who had given us the green light, she blocked it till today.

“We only managed to sell ten elephants and we raised about $200 000 but that was little as part of that money ended up going towards the sustenance of the team,” Gaule said.

Tsholotsho Rural District council finance director Patrick Ngwenya said political will lacked in implementing the project but said as a community they will find ways to make sure construction continues.

“You will realise that everything to do with funding constraints in this case is political but that’s not for us, all we want is to see the project back on its feet and as a community soon will find a way of making sure it happens and I know for certain that minister Moyo will be always behind us as he has always done,” said Ngwenya. —Jeffrey Muvundusi
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