The giant grows

Painful memories of forced removals from Green Point in the 1960s, which shattered long-established soccer clubs, not to mention whole communities, fanned the initial controversy about where to site Cape Town’s 2010 Fifa World Cup stadium.

It was sadly ironic that many of the people who had the most to gain from the construction—new roads and public transport facilities, urban renewal and recreational spaces in their impoverished suburbs—succumbed to the tunnel vision of racial discourse. Howls were heard on Cape Talk radio and SAfm that wealthy whites wanted the stadium built elsewhere to keep the racially oppressed soccer fans out of the previously white Green Point area.

Actually, with the awarding of a semi-final to the city, the Athlone footprint was regrettably no longer an adequate size, and Alec Erwin, the former chief saboteur of public enterprises, was adamant that Culemborg, the city’s most economic choice, could not be used.
Green Point it was. Meanwhile, the affluent denizens of the Atlantic seaboard, who stood to reap all the benefits—soaring property values, a rental windfall, new roads, a rehabilitated green belt and common, went into parish shock about an unbecomingly large erection on their doorstep.

At a mere 8m the engineers hit bedrock. With blasting prohibited, the stadium could not be sunk. Instead 21m-tall cranes were required. This, with local ratepayers’ aesthetic sensibilities on high alert, meant site-specific strictures alone escalated the costs by about R800-million. The stadium is required to have noise levels six decibels lower than the old, small stadium. (Presumably this is based on soccer matches, not the now year-round rumpus of the Kaapse klopse.)

So as not to compete with the profile of the hallowed mountain, the stadium has an undulating silhouette. The exterior is covered in a light membrane manufactured in and imported from Kuwait. According to the architects, the glass-fibre tissue creates a sense of depth and animation, its expansive concave elements forming a flowing facade. No matter what the conditions, the curved translucent surface will refract and catch the light. At sunset, the stadium will have a reddish glow, be blue on a clear day and appear grey when it is cloudy. At night it will look like a lantern glowing from within.

The interior of the stadium, oriented with goal posts running from Robben Island to Lion’s Head, is designed to have viewing unobstructed by any internal columns. We are told to rest assured; extensive wind testing, given Cape Town’s notorious southeaster storms, has been conducted.

Right now it might look like the 15-storey high, flesh-picked ribcage of some giant creature that crashed from outer space, but despite delays caused by political wrangling, local busybodies going into paroxysms, red tape, court battles and strikes, amazingly it’s on schedule for completion in December 2009. They’ll start planting the grass pitch in August next year, a process that will take four months.

The visitors’ centre, established in the old presidential suite of the old stadium, the only thing left standing, runs tours of the construction site three times a day to try to drum up some World Cup fever among the recalcitrant locals.

On Tuesday evenings the tour includes an “edutainment” by the greensman, Apollo Ntshoko. A versatile performer with great movement, he delivers a multimedia-enhanced people’s history of the Green Point common. Tourists will be entranced, but I found the stereotypical takes on pixy Khoesan hunters, militant Frenchmen, foppish Dutch colonists, silly women and a red-faced devil passé and much in the style of old white South African humour.

But the response to the visitors’ centre is positive and Cape Town seems to have reconciled itself to its new landscape, even shyly taking pride in it. There have been no major mishaps, traffic snarls or environmental incidents, and a massive, cutting-edge architectural undertaking is actually on time. The city is confident that it can make up the R580-million shortfall with naming rights, corporate suites and advance ticket sales. Even its severest critics (and their pets) look forward to the grand new urban park of 85ha that will surround the stadium.

For bookings call Lana on 021 430 0410 or go to www.greenpointstadiumvc.co.za

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