from WELLINGTON TONI in Harare, Zimbabwe
HARARE, (CAJ News) – FROM the outside, it looks more like a fruit and vegetable market than a stadium where some of the country’s historic football moments occurred or a venue that played host to some of the greatest local stars of the Beautiful Game.
Early into the morning, trucks gather to deliver produce from various farms around the capital city, Harare.
Apples, bananas, vegetables, mealies, tomatoes, onions, groundnuts, cucumbers and watermelons are some of the greens in abundance.
Later in the day, social football is the norm around the dilapidated structure.
Here and there, churches congregate.
The sequence continues the following day with the arrival of the trucks brimming with farm produce.
To the ignorant, this is a market place. They would be forgiven for thinking that, for, this is what the Rufaro Stadium has degenerated into.
Rufaro, the fabled home of Zimbabwe’s most popular and successful football club team, Dynamos.
This is where five-time Zimbabwe (the-Rhodesia) Soccer Star of the Year, George Shaya, made his name.
It is the venue where Sunday Chidzambwa performed and where midfield dynamo, Moses Chunga, shone before departure for Belgium as one of the first local players to play overseas.
Aptly named (Rufaro is joy in the local Shona language), it is the venue where Dynamos Football Club, Zimbabwe’s biggest premiership side, with Chidzambwa now as coach, rode roughshod over all opponents in their run to the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Champions League final against Ivory Coast giants Asec Mimosas.
It remains the most successful run in the competition by a Zimbabwean side.
It is at the same venue a David Mandigora-coached Dynamos trampled upon opponents to reach the CAF Champions League semifinals in 2008.
It is where another famous Dynamos son, Callisto Pasuwa, now at Nyasa Big Bullets in Malawi, won four league titles in a row from 2011 to 2014.
All these feats and joy are now a distant memory amid the decay ravaging Rufaro.
Owned by Harare City Council (HCC), it is so dilapidated that even CAF inspectors who recently embarked on tour to Zimbabwe did not even bother going to Rufaro.
It was not in their itinerary.
Eventually, Zimbabwe was banned from using its stadia to host international matches.
Apparently, Rufaro is the worst of the lot.
Michael Chideme, HCC spokesman, however said all this is about to change.
“We are putting up a durawall around Rufaro. This is not a vegetable market,” Chideme said.
“We are chasing away everyone there to make the place more attractive. A stadium must be ready at least 20 days before the season starts but when fans see the stadium in that (current) condition, they will stay away.”
The new Premier Soccer League (PSL) season is set to start before the end of the month.
“Work is already ongoing there and we hope that by the time the new PSL season starts, a lot of ground would have been covered,” Chideme said.
This is part of a project by the city authorities to revamp dilapidated football infrastructure in the wake of the ban imposed by CAF.
“In the second half of the season, we will move to Gwanzura and later on to Dzivarasekwa,” Chideme said.
“Fans and corporates can only get attracted to the stadia by proper infrastructure and surroundings. This is our thrust. We want to work with corporates and even national government if they are interested,” Chideme told CAJ News Africa.
“Corporates can put up their billboards and adopt stands and advertise there. There is a whole lot of mileage to be gained from advertising. Corporates can also help us to put bucket seats,” Chideme said.
Seating at most Zimbabwe stadium is terraced concrete.
Zimbabwe is battling a stadium crisis ahead of their Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Algeria after CAF prohibited the use of the main stadia, Barbourfields and the National Sports Stadium in Bulawayo and Harare respectively.
The Orlando Stadium in Soweto, neighbouring South Africa, has been earmarked to host the match.
Government has moved swiftly and released funds for the immediate renovation of the two venues.
Treasury released ZWL$13 million to Barboufields on Tuesday.
Businessman, Musa Beadle Gwasira, donated 100 bags of cement and a refrigerator for the doping room.
Popularly known as BF, this venue is seen having less structural issues that can be fixed within 14 days.
Once that is done, the Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) will compile a report to CAF, inviting the inspection team back.
The recent turn of events appear too little too late.
That leaves Zimbabwe with the humiliation of hosting a home-away-from-home fixture, an ignominy only familiar with countries at war.
– CAJ News