All quiet on the Mbombela front

Construction workers at the R1-billion 2010 Mbombela stadium in Mpumalanga have ignored the strike action planned by the National Union of Mine Workers.

At 12 noon on Wednesday three police vehicles were parked outside the Mbombela stadium, anticipating disturbances from workers who were supposed to go on strike. But as there were no signs of intimidation or, in fact, any strike action at all, the officers gathered around a table, which belonged to one of the food vendors, and ate their skop (sheep’s head).

Few people noticed them because it was as busy as payday outside the stadium. Construction workers ran up and down, shouting as they competed to place orders for their lunch.
Noisy construction vehicles were busy on the site.

Those who came to the stadium thinking that there was going to be a big strike were disappointed. It turned out to be a normal working day, just like any other.

“We heard on the television that there would be strikes across all 2010 venues, but we will not go on strike,” said Joseph Ntibande, a construction worker at the stadium. “We cannot afford to do that because this is our dream and we will be destroying it. We have embarked on a number of strikes here and as a result we fell behind schedule and are now working on borrowed time.

“We are only a few months away from kickoff of the event and if we strike and [are] left behind, we will not be able to host the event. Besides that, work is work; you will never be satisfied at work, no matter how much you earn.”

As there was no strike action outside the stadium, the Mail & Guardian team decided, instead, to have a look at the stadium itself. Leon Botha, the resident engineer, was happy to show us around. Forget the strike action; the stadium is spectacular.

Erica Qukumbane, a female contractor, said she was excited to be working there, which was why she couldn’t miss even one day: “This is my home and it will be my home even after the World Cup. I’m going nowhere. We have been through a lot here in Mbombela and I guess that is why we love this beautiful stadium.”

The construction of the 46 000-seat stadium has been plagued by 10 strikes. It is 88% complete. Some of the work with which the contractors are busy include the pedestrian ramps, paving and fitting plastic chairs.

“We are now busy with minor things and we should be done by September and hand it over to Fifa in October,” Botha said. “Our workers know that we can’t afford to lose time again, which is why they are here at work today. We were scared in the morning, thinking they would not pitch up for work. But look around. We have close to 1 400 contractors doing their jobs.

“We were once 47 days behind schedule and there was nothing we could do to prevent the situation. We had to revise our programme and do some serious catching up,” Botha said. “Generally, we are pleased with the progress made and the contractors are happy to be part of this project.”

The stadium has already been fitted with two sets of generators, offices, a bus tunnel for the players, CCTV cameras, change rooms, a warm-up room, hydrotherapy and medical centres.

We made our way through the players’ tunnel to the field and stood looking around to where workers were fitting plastic seats, some working on the suites, and to where graders spread the sand level for the grass to be laid.

By now it made sense why these workers chose to come to work instead of demanding a salary hike. This is their 2010 dream and it is only a matter of time before it becomes reality.

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