ITâ€™S March 6 2008.
Stray cats mew and snarl at each other over a rat in one of the crater-like ditches dug up near one of the shackled entrances into the stadium.
The security guard at the only gate open wonâ€™t allow anyone in unless “you have a letter from the council”.
At least from that gate you can peep in and catch a glimpse of the artificial turf that is being laid in the stadium.
To go round the perimeter wall, you have to meticulously tip-toe to avoid stepping on human stool strewn outside the stadium.
And there could be snakes too among the creepy-crawlies that have probably found home in the grass and weeds that have grown around the stadium.
Welcome to Rufaro, the stadium the officialdom says will be ready to host matches in a weekâ€™s time.
The Fifa project has started raising a stink as pungent as the human waste the people of Mbare who stay close by are depositing around Zimbabweâ€™s ceremonial home of football.
The story of the artificial turf installation has been growing murkier since the stadium was closed for the fully funded project on August 20 last year.–Darlington Majonga
The deadline for the completion of the project has been continually shifted.
First, the stadium was expected to be ready in eight weeks from commencement of the refurbishment. Seven months down the line, no one is sure whether the contractors, ACT Global, would finally deliver.
ACT Global official Chris Clapham was not available for comment this week. Zimbabwe Football Association chief executive Henrietta Rushwaya was not reachable as well.
The Premier Soccer League (PSL) faces a serious logistics challenge as it emerged this week that Rufaro is unlikely to be ready for the start of the season next week.
Nine of the 16 PSL teams are based in Harare where only three stadiums â€” Gwanzura, Dzivaresekwa and Motor Action Sports Club â€” are barely suitable to host top-flight matches.
Five matches are scheduled for the capital where the top-flight clubs as well as lower division teams will have to share the available sub-standard stadiums next weekend.
The unavailability of the National Sports Stadium, closed for renovations until next year, makes the situation worse.
“We really have a big problem with our fixtures because Rufaro is out and I donâ€™t think it will be ever ready any time soon,” PSL fixtures secretary Godfrey Japajapa said yesterday.
“People are just lying that it will be ready in time for the league starting next week. Remember at first we were told that Rufaro would be ready by October 22, but that could not happen and the CBZ FA Cup final had to be moved to Bulawayo as well.
“We have no hope whatsoever that the stadium will be ready and we strongly suspect there could be something big happening that no one is explaining.”
Harare municipality director of housing Justin Chivavaya was hostile when contacted for comment by IndependentSport yesterday, saying he would only respond to written questions.
“Itâ€™s not my policy to answer you verbally, whether on the phone or face-to-face, so send me your questions in writing,” Chivavaya said. “But I canâ€™t guarantee that Iâ€™ll respond. Thatâ€™s my way of doing things.”
Japajapa criticised the decision to lay the artificial turf at Rufaro.
“It was not a serious decision to put the artificial turf at Rufaro in the first place. They could have done the project at Chibuku in Chitungwiza,” he said. “All over the world, they donâ€™t put artificial turf at their best stadiums. Look at Manchester United, with all the money that they have, why is it that there is no artificial turf at Old Trafford?”