27 June 2019

Zimbabwe: Olympafrica Centre Construction Under Threat

The much-hyped construction of the Olympafrica Centre in Epworth might as well die a natural death as the informal settlers at the facility's proposed site have vowed not to move until the Epworth Local Board re-allocate them an alternative place.

The construction idea was mooted back in 2014 when the Zimbabwe Olympic Committee entered a MOU with the Olympafrica Foundation.

The agreement followed a proposal which had been made to ZOC by one of Epworth's forward-thinking sons Musekiwa Kumbula.

And after positive deliberations, the International Olympic Committee, through the Olympafrica Foundation, forwarded an initial US$150 000 of the total of US$500 000 for developments at the centre.

But the ZOC could only fence off the four-hectare land awaiting for the ELB to reach a consensus with the "illegal" settlers.

But it took a great deal of time for the ELB, who stands accused of parcelling out the land to the settlers who have now vowed not to move away till an alternative place is found.

Subsequently, the Olympafrica Foundation withdrew the funding after ZOC failed to honour the MOU, with the Zimbabwean authorities calling off the project.

But youths in the peri-urban settlement registered their displeasure, resulting in Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation Minister Kirsty Coventry touring the place where she proposed that the construction should go ahead.

Close to two months after Coventry's proposal, nothing has been done as the "illegal" settlers seem unperturbed.

"We are not illegal settlers as people out there are being made to believe. We bought these stands from the Epworth Local Board.

"We dare them to come and remove us if they are not the ones who sold us this land.

"Unless, they move us to an alternative place, we will actually develop this place into a modern settlement. We love sport, but we cannot leave an area where we paid for just because there is a sporting facility which needs to be built, no," fumed Maria Kumurai yesterday.

Kumurai's neighbours echoed her sentiments. Yet Epworth Local Board chairperson Batanai Masunda had promised Coventry that construction would commence.

"We believe that our minister, as a former international champion (in swimming), will usher the spirit of championship in our community," said Masunda then.

The ELB is currently mired in corruption allegations and efforts to get a comment from authorities were futile. It was recently reported that a receptionist at Epworth Local Board was accused of forging the secretary Wilton Mhanda's signature and illegally parcelling out "ghost" stands to unsuspecting home-seekers.

This came to light when hundreds of victims approached the board with queries on why the land they paid for has not been allocated stand numbers over long periods, according to sources.

The Olympafrica Foundation supports projects in Africa, especially for disadvantaged communities, and Zimbabwe had been chosen as one of the beneficiaries, but the delay by the local organ has seen the IOC withdrawing funding for this project.

The first Olympafrica Centre was built in Senegal in 1992 and this was followed by the creation of the Olympafrica Foundation in 1993. Such models are in existence in over 35 countries all over Africa and the Epworth project was set to be the first in Zimbabwe.

Sadly, for Zimbabwe's budding athletes, a great opportunity to train under the kind of facilities enjoyed by their peers in such countries as South Africa could be lost.

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