Mpumalanga’s R200-million white elephant

Mpumalanga's R200-million white elephant
DELAYED CONSTRUCTION: The construction of the Emakhazeni High Altitude Training Centre has been halted due to lack of investment and Mpumalanga government is unable to fund it as it does not have money to do so. PICTURE by 013NEWS

Government is failing to attract investors to pump R9-billion into a Belfast athletes training centre.

The Mpumalanga government is continuing to pump money into what appears to be a white elephant in the eMakhazeni local municipality, with close to R200-million having been spent so far.

The construction of the Emakhazeni High Altitude Training Centre – the brainchild of former Premier David Mabuza – was expected to have started in the 2012/13 financial year but the government had been waiting for an investor to pump R9-billion towards the construction of the athletes’ training centre. 

At the start of the project, Mabuza announced that the Mpumalanga province had partnered with the Portuguese government, but later indicated that the European government had pulled out of the partnership due to financial constraints.

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Department of sports and culture spokeswoman Sibongile Nkosi said the province had not really abandoned the project.

“Currently, the department’s busy with preconstruction activities that include the provision of bulk services, and the construction of the main structure will start when private investment is secured,” Nkosi said.

Last year, the department awarded tenders worth R86.9 million for the construction of a 7ML reservoir in Emakhazeni (formerly Belfast) and bulk water supply pipeline construction.

The government has so far spent a total amount of R199.2 million on the training centre, including R112.3 million used to purchase land where the centre will be built in Emakhazeni, conduct an environmental impact assessment study, design the buildings, draw up a masterplan and draft a bankable feasibility study.

Until an investor comes on board, the province risks losing the money, as the government does not have the budget to build the training centre.

Mpumalanga DA leader Jane Sithole said that Premier Refilwe Mtshweni-Tsipane should resolve this matter and stop wasting money on a “white elephant”.

“The project has stood idle since March 2021 due to continuous community unrest in Emakhazeni – and now materials that were delivered have been stolen,” Sithole said.

“After engagements between government and the community, an advertisement for 30% subcontracting [of local companies] was placed as part of resolving some of the challenges raised by the community. However, the community was dissatisfied that the appointed contractors weren’t from Emakhazeni or its surrounding areas and more unrest ensued,” added Sithole.

Emakhazeni is perched 2 100m above sea level and is an ideal location for athletic training. It is already attracting runners, cyclists and ice skaters from all over the world, who visit the nearby tourist town of Dullstroom to prepare themselves for major events.

Upon its completion, the centre is intended to offer training for popular sporting codes such as soccer, swimming, rugby, running, boxing, wrestling, basketball and cricket. Less popular sports such as judo, karate, kayaking, cycling and gymnastics will also be part of its programme.

Before leaving Mpumalanga, Mabuza also had a dream of constructing a R3.8 billion cultural hub in White River to groom and produce creative artists, including musicians and actors, as well as television and film producers.

The government secured 20.9hectares of land worth about R143.8 million for the cultural hub, but – like the training centre – no progress was ever made on it due to a lack of private investment.

First published in City Press