Afcon bleeding hosts

17 January 2013 - 02:00 By SCHALK MOUTON and AMUKELANI CHAUKE
The iconic Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban continues to drain eThekwini Municipality's finances.
The iconic Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban continues to drain eThekwini Municipality's finances.

With two days to go before the Africa Cup of Nations kickoffs, several cities are struggling to come up with the money needed to host the soccer tournament.

Already struggling with cash flow after the 2010 World Cup, some of the smaller host cities have had to redirect funds from critical departments for Afcon.

Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality has cut R11.6-million from its annual service-delivery budget to pay for the event.

Former acting municipal manager Themba Hani said last year the budgets of most departments would be cut. Public health and general infrastructure-engineering would be cut by at least R900000 each, sanitation by R465000 and electricity by R1-million.

Even the office of the city manager was made to cede R1.5-million towards its Afcon campaign.

Leon de Villiers, DA caucus leader in Port Elizabeth, said yesterday the council could ill afford to act as host city as it had cash-flow problems from hosting the World Cup.

"We just cannot borrow any more money. Whatever we lend now would have to be put directly onto the 13% increase on our rates bill that we've already approved," said De Villiers.

Martie Nel, spokesman for the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, said the provincial government's R18.6-million would take the form of "procurement", meaning it would pay for expenses directly.

"The budget was approved by council."

De Villiers said: "We are in an awkward position at the moment. We are milking critical budgets. Our budgets were hopelessly underfunded even before Afcon.

"We spent a total of R878-million to host the 2010 Fifa World Cup after we budgeted to spend only R340-million, an over-expenditure of R538-million that has plunged this metro into a financial crisis."

Nelson Mandela Bay has debt of R1.9-billion.

In Nelspruit, the municipality does not have a complete business plan underpinning its hosting of Afcon - even though Mbombela Stadium will host its first game on Monday. About 18000 tickets have been sold for each of the first two Afcon matches at the venue.

Mbombela Municipality also has not signed a memorandum of understanding to get R31.5-million - earmarked to pay for visiting teams and support staff - from the national government.

"We have been merrily spending money that we don't have," said Jo Koster, DA whip in the Mbombela council.

Joseph Ngala, spokesman for the Mbombela Municipality, could not be reached for comment.

According to the agreement that municipalities signed with the Local Organising Committee, host cities will be responsible for any financial shortfalls relating to the event.

The tournament, whose opening ceremony and game take place at Soccer City in Soweto on Saturday, was moved from original host Libya because of the civil war.

Cape Town reportedly "refused to be bullied" into hosting the event and Johannesburg initially withdrew in July as a host city, only to oblige later.

Last week, the organising committee came under heavy criticism for lacklustre marketing, public information and ticket sales.

Sipho Sithole, spokesman for the organising committee, said a total of about 426000 tickets had been sold.

The committee said it had sold only a quarter of the tickets for the matches to be played at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.

The city will host six games at the 54000-seater venue, but none of the games has been sold out.

According to eThekwini DA caucus leader Tex Collins, only 18000 tickets have been sold for two matches.

Bafana Bafana's final two group matches - against Angola on Wednesday and Morocco on February 27 - will also be played at the Durban stadium.

Organising committee chairman Chief Mwelo Nonkonyana said he was unhappy about ticket sales at many other cities. "Our target was at least 500000 and there's still time to get there. We're hoping we can really hit that target by the end of this weekend." - Additional reporting by Sapa