Scandals, murder taint World Cup stadium

Tue Oct 27, 2009 8:11pm EDT
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By Barry Moody

NELSPRUIT, South Africa (Reuters) - Mbombela is one of the most atmospheric new stadiums built for next year's World Cup, nestled among the beautiful hills of northeast South Africa and supported by orange pylons that resemble giraffes.

But the almost 1.3 billion rand ($172 million) stadium has been tarnished by a string of scandals, including the murder, apparently by professional hitmen, of a municipal official who blew the whistle on alleged corruption and malpractice.

The stadium has been built just outside Nelspruit, the gateway to South Africa's most famous game park, the Kruger -- hence the giraffes -- in a zone of great beauty, where most of the country's citrus fruit and avocados are grown.

But the multiple controversies over World Cup projects have tainted that beauty. Even the mayor describes them as ugly.

The scandals include a failed attempt by the municipality to buy the stadium land from the Matsafeni community owners for one rand, allegations of irregular tenders, overpayments, conflicts of interest and tax evasion.

An angry high court judge last year blocked the deal, accusing the municipality of being like colonial settlers who tried to buy land for mirrors and shiny buttons. Now the Matsafeni have agreed on a transfer worth almost 9 million rand.

The municipal manager, Joseph Dladla, was suspended early last year after a scathing investigation by a local law firm which alleged his misconduct had brought the municipality close to collapse. His ally, mayor Justice Nsibande, was fired and the municipality placed under external administration.

Municipality speaker Jimmy Mohlala, the leading critic of alleged irregularities, was killed by masked men outside his home in January. No arrests have been made.   Continued...

<p>Khelina Sibuyi, 49, draws water from bore holes in the township of Mataffin, within sight of the new Mbombela World Cup stadium outside Nelspruit October 20, 2009. REUTERS/Barry Moody</p>