A combined effort by soccer lovers and community leaders re-opened the R112 million Fezile Dabi stadium which had become a haven for drug users. The 15 000-seater stadium in Tumahole, Parys, was vandalised and cables stolen while residents and soccer lovers stood and watched it fall to ruin.
A community leader, who took a stand in making sure the stadium was being used for good, Prince Zina, said he was glad that the matter was getting media attention.
Zina said community members and the local sports fraternity were not interested in the politics of the day but they wanted the stadium to be operational.
“All that we are interested in is to see the stadium being handed over to the community, and this matter is no longer about the stadium, but many other projects that were left unattended to. We are now engaging with the provincial department of sports and currently they have sent their technical adviser to inspect the damage on the site,” he added.
He however, said he was saddened by the lack of an interest from the Ngwathe local municipality into the matter.
“Our municipality told us point-blank that they don’t want to be involved. For now, we are told Fezile Dabi district municipality would oversee the stadium, so we set up the appointment with the municipality,” he added.
Zina continued to say the government had spent a lot of money into the stadium for it to just be idle like that without the beneficiaries enjoying it.
When Independent Media contacted Ngwathe Municipality’s spokesperson, Steve Naale, he said the stadium was not yet handed over to the municipality, referring the paper to both public works and the department of sports.
“The stadium has not yet been handed over to us, as far as I know it still falls under public works, I would suggest you guys contact public works or sports department,” Naale added.
Public Works spokesperson Mlungisi Maqubela said the facility was handed over to the sports department adding that once that handover process was done everything else was the responsibility of the department.
“The stadium was handed over to the department of sports arts and culture in November of 2021, that’s all we can respond to as public works,” Maqubela explained.
He further said the department’s role was to service other departments such as building infrastructure but does not maintain those buildings.
“We build schools for the department of educations, and they do their allocations for and make arrangements from within in order to do their maintenance, we call these capital projects”.
Maqubela further said the fact that the stadium was built by the department didn't mean that the public works would forever assume the responsibility of it.
Attempts to get comment from the department of sports were unsuccessful at the time of going to print.
Meanwhile, another community leader Fundile Mlambo applauded community members who took the stand with regards to ensuring that Fezile Dabi stadium did not remain a white elephant within Tumahole. Mlambo said this showed the community's commitment to the operation, and activeness of the stadium.
“For many years the community has been lied to by either the relevant department/s including the local municipality, in regards to the opening and full operation of the stadium. Now that the stadium has partially been unofficially opened by the community, relevant government departments (Department of Sports, Arts & Culture, Public Works, Ngwathe Local Municipality, Fezile Dabi District Municipality etc) must come on board together with the community of Tumahole to ensure that the running of the stadium is efficient.
An interim stadium committee should be appointed which should be reflective of all stakeholders within Tumahole, especially representatives from the sports fraternity, non-profit organisations etc,” he added.
Furthermore, Mlambo said the stadium had the potential to create jobs in the community, advising that the community should guard against opportunistic political parties who would want to use the stadium issues to advance their political agendas.
He said the success of Fezile Dabi stadium relied on the unity of the Tumahole community, and that there should be transparency.
The initial cost of the stadium was set to be R98 million rand to build. The official opening of the stadium was done by the province’s former premier Ace Magashule on November 28 of 2013.
In 2021, despite its white elephant status R3.3 million was spent - not fixing the stadium - but on a statue to honour the late anti-Apartheid stalwart, Fezile Dabi. Former Free State MEC for Sports, Arts, Culture and Recreation, Limakatso Mahasa, unveiled the R3.3 million statue at the neglected stadium.