Fix Stadiums NOW!

Namibians are understandably in football heaven after our 27th-ranked Brave Warriors beat the third-best nation in Africa, Tunisia, to record their first-ever Afcon win.

“I am the happiest Namibian today,” declared president Hage Geingob after the match.

An avid football fan, the first citizen and patron of the Namibia Football Association (NFA), Geingob has the best credentials to make such a declaration.

Yet it will come as no surprise if the glow of that pride dissipated within 24 hours.

Not because the Brave Warriors still have a long way to progress from group E in the continental championship, but because our national football team arguably gave their best performance despite many odds – key among them that the Namibian government has failed to keep a single stadium fit enough to host opponents and give the Brave Warriors home advantage.

Mind you, that’s in addition to a dysfunctional NFA, which is constantly mired in the worst kind of infighting – to the extent that it has left the country with no consistent football matches over the past five years.

As a result, Namibia’s football teams have been playing their ‘home’ games in foreign countries – sometimes as far away as Morocco. It’s beyond shameful, to say the least.

Fifa has declared the two Windhoek-based grounds – Independence and Sam Nujoma (formerly Katutura) stadiums – unfit for competitive match-ups.

Initially, the government claimed there was no money to fix them. About N$100 million was needed.

Only a fool would believe such hogwash. Even after the money was allocated, government ineptitude apparently resulted in a delay in getting the job started on at least Independence Stadium, built before Namibia’s independence 34 years ago.

As the Brave Warriors sent Namibia flashing on the world map, confirmation came through that the government will provide Namcor with a N$1,3 billion bailout.

Over the past several years, the state oil company has splurged money on questionable transactions despite its perennial dependence on taxpayers.

Every year, Namcor gets more than N$80 million from fuel levies – nearly 10 cents for every dollar of diesel, petrol and other fuel sold in the country.

In 2010 the state provided a bailout of at least N$260 million, following another round of mismanagement at Namcor.

Besides, Namibian taxpayers are still paying off debt incurred in the construction of a N$7-billion fuel storage facility, a white elephant that Namcor convinced politicians was a top priority.

Namcor is only one of many examples of how the government has prioritised pet projects and squandered public resources.

Instead, sport, public health, education, housing, sanitation and basic physical security have continued to deteriorate.

Talented athletes like Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi struggle to find decent athletic courses (nevermind infrastructure that matches their world-class prowess) to improve and maintain their fitness.

If anything, training at public Namibian stadiums is fraught with the danger of getting injured because of the state of the grounds.
We join president Geingob in celebrating the Brave Warriors’ history-making performance on Tuesday.

But Namibians would be foolish to remain on cloud nine without appreciating the context.

Mr President, your heart is in the right place. Your rhetoric about the equitable distribution of resources and democracy suggests you know what’s best for your country.

It’s just difficult to understand what your team lacks when it fails to put words into action.

In your final year, turn off the taps of self-enrichment, self-aggrandisement and the wasting of public resources on ROE (return on ego) projects.

Please focus singularly and genuinely on the needs of the majority, which is indigent.

You won’t do badly by starting with fixing and building public infrastructure like stadiums that first and foremost benefit the majority, which, in our country, is the poor.

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