Cape Town Stadium viewed from Table Mountain
Nestled between the sea and Table Mountain, Cape Town Stadium has one of the most dramatic locations of any in the world. You can already picture the sumptuous helicopter footage that will no doubt feature in next month's TV montages of this World Cup city. Yet the new pride of Cape Town has a divisive history. It is emblematic of the tensions a city must suffer to host a one-month sporting spectacle – the marketing power that comes with briefly being the home of football begets years of upheaval, compromise, investment and under-investment, promises and U-turns, hopes and letdowns. It also illustrates the power FIFA has over matters of major urban infrastructure.
The stadium is the largest construction project ever undertaken in Cape Town, costing more than 4 billion rand. However, the controversy surrounding it was not to do with the cost or the design but the location. It sits in the rich, white neighbourhood of Green Point, and rich, white Cape Townians watch rugby and cricket, not football. It was natural that the right-wing NIMBYs would be against building a stadium there, but then so were the liberals. They argued that the stadium should be located in a township, among the people who play and love football. Furthermore, it would have been both a symbolic and very real investment in the townships to locate a new stadium in, say, Athlone. Green Point, by contrast, didn't need the investment, was too far from the fans and was home to a litigious community up in arms about the destruction of its views and its golf course. Now, of course, those residents are selling or renting properties with special premiums on a stadium view.
"Cape Townians are suspicious of modern design because modern design destroyed Cape Town in many ways," says Robert Silke, an architect with Louis Karol, the local practice that built the stadium with German giant GMP. In the early 20th century this was a picturesque Victorian city, one of the most socially integrated in Africa, but under apartheid it embraced modernism and its implicit hygiene metaphors, "draining" the centre of blacks and using highways as segregation barriers. In that sense, some see the choice of the Green Point site as a positive decision, because it will bring people out of the townships to a part of the city that they have no connection with – exactly what residents of Green Point feared. Then again, it is not clear how many township residents will even be able to afford a ticket to any of the World Cup matches.
What is extraordinary about the choice of site is that it was more or less dictated by FIFA. Both then South African president Thabo Mbeki and the mayor, Helen Zille, were against it, preferring to enlarge one of the existing stadiums at Newlands or Athlone, which proved impossible. But FIFA's inspection team, led by former German captain Franz Beckenbauer, had their hearts set on Green Point, and FIFA chief executive Sepp Blatter had only to remind the politicians that if a 65,000-seat stadium couldn't be found in Cape Town then one of the coveted semi-final matches could easily be moved to another city.
The newly paved Grand Parade in front of Town Hall, with bus stops in the foreground
"I'm actually happy that the stadium is located where it is because it's quite a subversive way of converting a part of town that was elitist," says young local architect Mokena Makeka (see page 062). "You wouldn't ordinarily find people from Athlone coming to Green Point. It goes against the liberal argument that you need to take things to the people – in some respects that would only reinforce the apartheid plan of the city."
The World Cup was a huge opportunity for the city, not just as a marketing tool to help drive its tourism industry but as a catalyst for a programme of urban improvement that could have sought to undo some of the apartheid legacy of disconnectedness. After 20 years of under-investment, this was a chance to boost the city's civic confidence and turn Cape Town, as Makeka puts it, into "more of a city and less of a town."
The city was slow to react to South Africa's winning of the bid, but the injection of government money combined with the salutary effects of an immovable deadline eventually shook it out of its torpor. Cape Town airport, the third largest in Africa – which also bills itself as "Africa's premier tourist and VIP destination" – was expanded with a new terminal. Meanwhile Makeka has been busy upgrading Cape Town train station, turning it into a modern transport hub and trying to democratise a layout that once segregated whites and blacks with separate concourses. But he doesn't feel that his brief was suitably ambitious. At less than 500 million rand, the station will have cost less than an eighth of the stadium. "That's a statement of priority. It's a pity considering that in terms of legacy the station will be used far more intensely than the stadium ever will be," he says.
Another bone of contention for Makeka is that the station and the stadium are not even linked by a dedicated form of transport. The city has laid out an ambitious plan to expand the Bus Rapid Transit system, but nobody believes it will ever be delivered. Although phase one is currently being rolled out, the next four phases are likely to be dropped after the World Cup for lack of funding.
An informal football pitch in the Khayelitsha township
Meanwhile, the private sector has also been in overdrive. The city is home to dozens of new hotels. Able to charge triple rates in June – winter in South Africa, and so out of season – they are sure to thrive in the normally risky opening year. But one wonders how many will stay in business once the fans have gone home.
Many feel that as far as the public investment in the city is concerned the World Cup has been a missed opportunity. "It's our responsibility to represent Africa to the world. Nations need narratives and this is the best narrative you could get," says Edgar Pieterse, director of the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town. Given the transformative potential of that narrative, he sees the actual changes occurring in the city as pragmatic at best. "They didn't use the World Cup as a chance for a social programme," he says. "They could have asked, what does it mean to build a new South African culture? How do you get people of different classes and races to interact? Because there's no better metaphor for the body, for youth, for national identity than a World Cup."
As a counter-example, Pieterse points to Johannesburg, where the World Cup was used to drive the regeneration of Bertrams, a dilapidated suburb, and where there was far more investment in transport infrastructure. In Cape Town he is left decrying what he calls "cultural displacement", citing the removal of informal traders from in front of the train station. He bemoans the, admittedly universal, neutralisation of public spaces into coffee shop forecourts. Makeka agrees: "Let's be frank, the city could be far more proactive around its unused spaces, whether it's spaces beneath highways or public open spaces. They could be far more accommodating of the informal market reality, which contributes up to half the jobs in the area. The product that we are going to get does not speak to what it could have been in terms of a really integrated city. I think it's partly to do with lack of resources and people in the right places, making the wrong decisions – which I think is the history of South Africa in many respects."
As for the stadium, the key question, as always with one-off sporting spectacles, is one of legacy. It is still unclear whether in the long run the stadium will be used for rugby – a far more lucrative sport in South Africa – or football. The French management company, Stade de France, will pay a third of its profits back to the city but there is no guarantee that that will shore up the deficit. "Nothing will justify spending 4 billion rand, but it was a calculated investment in the national image," says Silke. At a speech at the stadium in February, his boss, Louis Karol, put it more bluntly: "Even if only two games are played here, it will have been worth it."
The construction foreman at the stadium site
View of Green Point, with Cape Town Stadium rising in 2009