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Rufaro becomes political play ground

The police, through their social media platforms said it stands guided by Muguti as he is the one in charge of government and local authorities programmes in the city.

WHAT started off as a mere commissioning of Rufaro Stadium by the City of Harare Mayor Jacob Mafume, a Citizen Coalition for Change (CCC) councillor, degenerated into political war zone as the Zanu PF government sent the police to storm the football venue and stop the event on Thursday last week.

Rufaro’s significance on the Zimbabwe political landscape is undeniable as it hosted the country's independence celebration back in 1980 as well as many other political events.

But sadly the ceremonial home of football suffered neglect until it became unfit to host even league matches and was condemned by the Zifa First Instance Board at the start of the 2020 season.

Political wars around Rufaro Stadium surfaced last year when plans by Sakunda Holdings to renovate the iconic football ground in Mbare were scuppered by Mafume following an earlier agreement between the City Fathers and the energy giant.

Sakunda is owned by Kudawakwashe Tagwirei, a known close confidant of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Harare City Council decided to renovate the stadium on their own last year and work has been going on to complete the rehabilitation during the current league season.

After missing a number of deadlines to open the stadium for football, council decided to commission the Stadium despite evidence that there is still a lot of work to be done for it to be ready.

A state-of-the-art car park is complete while the turf is looking good but the dressing rooms and other key areas in and around the stadium need work.

Curious is the timing by the Mafume-led council to commission Rufaro Stadium barely two weeks before elections while the police reportedly frustrated the intended event twice before the Thursday debacle.

Mafume dismissed claims that he was using the stadium renovations as a political card.

“We are not using it as a political card to campaign. We are making a stadium for the children. This is what we promised our residents. You know our counterparts opened the airport across there. They opened some other things. A gate was opened at Josiah Magama Tongogara and so forth and we are opening a stadium. Are they doing it for the election?,” he said after police disrupted the intended Rufaro Stadium opening," he said.

“They are doing it because people need to get into the airport to travel, people need electricity to cook. It’s not for elections. We are doing this for the sporting public. It’s the job we told people we were going to do and we have done it.

“If the people feel happy that Harare city council has brought back soccer to Harare then so be it. That is what we are in there for. We are not ashamed to deliver on our promises. We are happy to go back to the residents and say we said soccer is coming home and we have built a beautiful home for soccer.”

Harare giants Dynamos, whose patron is Zanu PF stalwart Webster Shamhu, CAPS United and Zifa, through the normalisation committee chairperson Lincoln Mutasa, were dragged into the fiasco as they heeded the invitation for the ceremony.

Interestingly, Mnangagwa had claimed ownership of Dynamos, declaring that they would be taking over the renovations of Rufaro at a Zanu PF rally barely 24 hours earlier.

“It is regrettable that soccer matches have been suspended in Harare as a result of the present state of stadiums. Now, Dynamos DeMbare has to play its home games in other towns and cities. I say no; we are going to renovate the stadium so that DeMbare can play here. It must be proud.

"We cannot allow our DeMbare to suffer,” said Mnangagwa.

Harare Metropolitan Devolution secretary Tafadzwa Muguti said there was nothing political about what happened at Rufaro Stadium.

“Essentially, there is no politics involved, but this is something that we have written to them over and over again. The City of Harare was advised through my office last month to ensure that their building or renovation of Rufaro Stadium, they stand guided through the Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreational ministry, which oversees the Sports and Recreation Commission,” he said in a statement.

The police, through their social media platforms said it stands guided by Muguti as he is the one in charge of government and local authorities programmes in the city.

This publication understands that Mafume went on to privately commission the stadium on Friday.

Harare City Council has reportedly invested over US$2 million on Rufaro renovations so far as they look to establish a self-sustaining multiplex that includes a hotel, museum, sports shops and food court among other services. While the turf wars are going on, Harare football teams are having to play home matches in other cities, and recent developments at Rufaro could see the stadium crisis in the city drag for a longer period.

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