DURBAN 06062012 Workers covering the racetract around the field for the TopGear festival, Madhiba Stadium. Picture: Jacques Naude

eThekwini ratepayers have paid a hefty R50 million since the soccer World Cup to attract events to the R3.1-billion Moses Mabhida Stadium.

This has raised serious concerns about the long-term viability of the stadium in the absence of an anchor tenant with deep pockets to make it financially sustainable.

The Sharks rugby franchise, which the city had hoped would be such a tenant, closed the door to further talks with the city management when they announced last year they were staying put at Kings Park.

However, the eThekwini municipality has dismissed claims that the stadium is a white elephant, saying it had generated an income of over R207m in the past two years.

But the municipality’s acting deputy city manager for sustainable development, Philip Sithole, told The Mercury it was an “open secret” that the stadium was not breaking even.

“This applies to all soccer stadiums in South Africa,” he said.

However, the facility was contributing to economic development and tourism promotion in the city.

“If the local economy grows, more jobs and businesses will be created. I think it has to be appreciated that Moses Mabhida Stadium is working hard towards self-funding.”

Although the stadium boasts attractions including the sky car, bungee swing, restaurants and a Virgin Active classic club gym, Durban ratepayers will soon be expected to cough up again – this time at least R10m to host next year’s Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon).

DA caucus leader Tex Collins said he had asked officials why the city had to pay to host soccer matches, but “they duck the issue”.

“I don’t buy that we have to pay people to use our stadium,” he said.

“How else will we make money out of the stadium if we keep paying people to use it? It makes no sense.”

Minority Front councillor Patrick Pillay said the municipality always questioned the stadium’s sustainability, and to alleviate the burden on ratepayers, exploring a public private partnership with the private sector was the only way forward.

Pillay said major events were a national competence and should be fully funded from the national and provincial sports department.

“Ratepayer funding of these events is unfair, unaffordable and undermines critical service delivery,” he said.

While city officials and politicians remain in the dark about the final costs of hosting Afcon, mayor James Nxumalo last week said he was “very worried” that the matter had not been finalised. He said they had not yet met with Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula and hoped the meeting would have been convened by “at least the end of June.”

“We hope the city won’t pay more than R10m. This is based on the previous estimated figure of R80m. It was then reduced to R40 million,” he said.

Sithole confirmed that the city had contributed R3.5m for the Bafana Bafana match against Senegal and about R400 000 towards the Telkom Knock-out semi-final.

He said the stadium had hosted 30 soccer matches since the World Cup and had contributed to a few of the matches.

“The economic spin-off is more than R300m into the local economy. Top Gear alone will help the city sell itself to millions and millions of international tourists,” he said.

Former city manager Michael Sutcliffe previously said the stadium was always intended to be a sustainable facility incorporating the primary stadium bowl designed to host soccer, rugby, cricket and athletics events and a variety of flexible high quality internal rooms for function hire purposes.