Lottery-funded stadium named after champion runner is still incomplete after five years

Mbulaeni Mulaudzi must be turning in his grave, says his former coach

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Sod-turning ceremony in January 2018 when the project was announced. From left to right are Mr Samuel Mulaudzi (father of the late Mbulaeni Mulaudzi), Ms Ester Malema (board member of Athletics South Africa), Cllr Mavhungu Luruli Ramakhanya, Cllr Shonisani Sinyosi and Thovhele Vele Kutama. Samuel Mulaudzi died in July 2018. Photo: Kaizer Nengovhela.

Champion athlete Mbulaeni Mulaudzi must be “turning in his grave” at the fate of the R15.9-million stadium named after him in Muduluni in Limpopo, says the late athlete’s coach.

A dispute over who is responsible for the upkeep of the Lottery-funded stadium has left local leaders wondering whether the incomplete project will ever be of use to local athletes.

The stadium was supposed to be built with a R15.9-million grant from the National Lotteries Commission (NLC) paid to Mavu Sports Development, a Gauteng-based non-profit organisation (NPO) in 2018.

At the sod-turning ceremony in 2018, the NLC’s provincial manager, Matsobane Legodi, told a delegation of community leaders and politicians that the project was in honour of South Africa’s 800-metre champion, the late Mbulaeni Mulaudzi. He said the stadium would be completed within six months, by the end of June 2018. But the project has still not been completed and the stadium is not in use.

Resident Makonde Makhumisane, who was Mulaudzi’s first coach, said those responsible for the lack of progress should come forward.

“We need the people who were supposed to do this to come forward and account,” he said. He accused Mavu and the project managers of collaborating and not being transparent about the project. He also accused them of tarnishing the good name and reputation of the star athlete Mulaudzi.

“I think he is turning in his grave. You cannot just spend millions and millions and take it away. The community is waiting eagerly to see our kids succeeding,” he said. Makhumisane said people are disappointed that the hard-working Mulaudzi’s name is now linked to the shoddy work.

The NLC grant raised red flags from the start.

For one thing, it was odd that a grant for such a large infrastructure project was awarded to a small NPO, Mavu Sports Development, which had no experience with such projects.

Furthermore, the NPO was not entitled to receive funding, as it had received funding in 2016 and in 2017. Getting more funds in 2018 was in breach of a statutory 12-month cooling-off period introduced in 2015 when amendments were made to the National Lotteries Act.

The NLC’s announcement that such a big project would be completed in less than six months, caused many to raise their eyebrows at the tight deadline.

Mavu’s spokesperson, former South African Football Association (SAFA) president Kirsten Nematandani, agreed at the time that this was unrealistic. Nematandani also said that the NLC grant was insufficient to build such a stadium which could accommodate world-class events.

Six months stretches to five years

Using Google Earth’s satellite image history, we were able to construct a visual timeline of progress at the site.

The first visible sign of any development was more than a year after the money was received, in March 2019, when a single combi court was under construction. By June 2019, the combi court had a surface, and some groundwork was underway on the athletics track. Between July 2019 and March 2020, the concrete basis for the athletics track was laid. (Limpopo Mirror visited the site in December 2019.)

The original plan for the facility. Much of this has not materialised.

The top aerial image from Google Earth is from September 2020. The bottom, also from Google Earth, is from September 2022.

For the remainder of 2020, not much happened, but this was a time when hard Covid-19 lockdown restrictions were in place.

A satellite image in May 2021 shows that the artificial surface on the track had been laid and grass had been planted on the inside area. A fence around the track was under construction.

By January 2022 the fence around the track appears to have been completed and the grass was coming on quite nicely.

But, two years later, not much has changed at the stadium.

“I don’t see anything going on at the stadium. They must finish the stadium so that we can go and participate. It has been a while. We must have events there,” local runner Emmanuel Matjee told Limpopo Mirror when we visited last weekend.

Where did the money go?

The acting secretary of the Zoutpansberg Development Forum (ZDF), Andries Dobi said an investigation should be launched. He said a lack of skills and corruption were the main causes of the delays in building the stadium.

“We are pleading with Mavu Sports Development to come and finish the stadium, because our kids don’t have a place to play their sport,” he said. He accused Mavu of “vanishing” and of not being willing to talk to the local community.

“When the NLC announced the first budget of R15.9 million we were all elated, hoping that the legacy of the late sports star will resonate with the sports field that will be constructed. Little did we know that only shabby work would be the order of the day. Our biggest fear now is that this is money down the drain,” he said.

Dobi said that the forum is concerned that the stadium has not yet been handed over to the community, though the Makhado mayor claimed in his budget speech that the stadium was nearing completion. “It does appear as if the municipality had never done any oversight during construction,” Dobi said, adding that he believed that “very little” of the grant had been spent on the stadium.

The senior traditional leader in the area, Thovhele Vho-Vele Kutama, said leaders had written several letters to Mavu, requesting that the project be handed over to the community, but had not received any response.

He said the stadium is being vandalised and is being used as a grazing area for cattle.

Municipality not keen on getting involved

The spokesperson for Mavu, Kirsten Nematandani, admitted that the project is far from being completed. He said that the NLC’s grant of R15.9-million was “not nearly enough” to build a world-class facility. According to Nematandani, Mavu had applied for a grant of R42-million, but this had been declined by the NLC.

He said only the first phase of the project, a practice track, had been completed and it had not yet been handed over.

Nematandani said Mavu had asked the Makhado Municipality to take responsibility for the stadium and maintain it. The request had been turned down.

“We can’t just hand over the project to the community. Who’s going to look after it?” he said. He acknowledged that the stadium is currently being vandalised.

Nematandani said that after being asked by Limpopo Mirror about progress on the facility, he had contacted Kone Maweja Project Managers, the Polokwane-based company appointed to manage the project. Kone Maweja had agreed to return to the site and build an ablution block at the stadium, Nematandani claimed.

But the director of Kone Maweja Project Managers, Tshipuliso Ndou, told Limpopo Mirror that his company had finished working on the project. He said they had not built an ablution block, because there was no more money.

Ndou said that Kone Maweja planned to fund and build an ablution block as a donation to the community. But he said he was worried that the site would be further vandalised and blamed the Makhado Municipality for not taking ownership of the stadium and providing security.

Makhado Municipality mayor, Samuel Munyai, said he could not comment until he had spoken to heads of departments.

Under investigation

Questions about the project were sent to the spokesperson of the National Lotteries Commission, Odaho Sengani.

“We are unfortunately unable to refer to any documentation or verify information regarding the enquiry, as all proactive funding files have been seized by the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) as part of their ongoing investigation,” she said.

The grant to Mavu Sports Development was done under the NLC’s controversial proactive funding model, which is at the heart of the looting of the Lottery. The funding method, introduced in 2016, allowed the NLC, in consultation with its board, or the Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition to identify worthy projects and appoint an organisation to execute the project.

The model sparked wide-scale corruption running into hundreds of millions of rands. Top officials of the NLC and board members controlled the process and funds ended up paying for luxury mansions and cars.

President Cyril Ramaphosa signed a proclamation in October 2022 authorising the SIU to probe allegations of large-scale fraud and corruption in the awarding of grants.

The appointment of the SIU followed an investigation by GroundUp and Limpopo Mirror, exposing widespread corruption.

The SIU and the Asset Forfeiture Unit have clamped down on many of the people involved in the looting of the funds and properties and assets paid for with Lottery funds have been frozen by the Special Tribunal. These include a luxury mansion belonging to the former chairperson of the NLC’s board, Alfred Nevhutanda, and a house on a golf estate belonging to NLC Commissioner Thabang Mampane and her husband.

In September last year, the head of the SIU, Andy Mothibi, told Parliament that his unit is investigating over R1.4-billion in dodgy Lottery grants.

The authors write for The Limpopo Mirror. Co-published with the Limpopo Mirror.

TOPICS:  National Lotteries Commission

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