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Orlando Stadium: history PDF Print E-mail
On 2 May 2008, Orlando Stadium turned 49. Originally built in 1959 and seating 24 000 people, Orlando Stadium became the home of the Johannesburg Bantu Football Association (JBFA) and, soon after, of the famous Soweto football clubs Orlando Pirates and Moroka Swallows.


Orlando stadium


BUILT at a cost £37 500, Orlando Stadium was officially opened by the then minister of bantu administration and development, MC de Wet Nel. More than 7 500 men, women and children and about 400 whites attended the opening. The then mayor of Joburg, Ian Maltz, was also there.

The first football teams to play on the new pitch were Litsitsi First Division and Marematlou Division of the JBFA. Marematlou won the 30-minute match 1-0.

Years later, the stadium became a venue for political meetings. It rose to prominence during the Soweto students' uprising of 16 June 1976, when it was the intended venue for a mass meeting of schoolchildren. They had planned to march from Orlando West Secondary School in Vilakazi Street to Orlando Stadium in protest against the teaching of Afrikaans in Soweto schools.

Before they reached the stadium, however, the children were met by a large contingent of heavily armed police in a confrontation that resulted in scores of school children being killed and injured.

Following the advent of democracy in 1994, 16 June has been commemorated annually as Youth Day, with many events held at the stadium.

On one such day, on 16 June 1994, former president Nelson Mandela was given the outline of the National Programme of Action (NPA). It was a momentous occasion because on that day, Mandela pledged his government's commitment to South Africa's children.

The year preceding this, in 1993, thousands of mourners gathered at Orlando Stadium for the funeral service of the struggle hero, Walter Sisulu. The ceremony was attended by former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela; and various African heads of state, including Joachim Chissano of Mozambique, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, and Pakalitha Mosisili of Lesotho.

But Orlando Stadium is best remembered by locals for its Soweto derbies, like the matches between Orlando Pirates and Moroka Swallows, which were characterised by intense rivalry.

Orlando township
Orlando, which is divided into Orlando East and Orlando West, was one of the first townships to be established in Soweto.

It was set up in 1931 after an increase in the price of gold resulted in a sudden influx of destitute white farmers into the city. To make room for the new migrants, the authorities moved black people out of the city. They needed to build a new township for these blacks on the city's outskirts, and land in Klipspruit Extension 8 was identified as suitable.

The first houses in Orlando, named after the first chairman of the Native Affairs Committee, Edwin Orlando Leake, were completed in October 1931 and were offered on a rental basis.

The identical two- and three bed-roomed houses, known by residents as "matchbox houses", were tightly packed together and had no electricity or sanitation - the notorious "bucket system", a sewerage disposal method using buckets, was used.

Community facilities were poor and parks and sports facilities were scarce. Many black people living in areas like Doornfontein and Bertrams resisted the move to Orlando because of the distance from the city, where there were job opportunities.

One soccer team to emerge out of this famous township is Orlando Pirates, founded in 1937 and growing out of the dusty street game of "street soccer". Today it is one of the heavyweights in South African football. For decades, Pirates was a symbol of civic pride in Orlando.

Then, in 1959, Orlando Stadium was built; over time, big teams like Orlando Pirates, Moroka Swallows and Kaizer Chiefs have made the stadium their home ground.

But Orlando is not only famous for its stadium; it was also the home of Nelson Mandela, where he lived as a young lawyer. Today his tiny four-roomed Orlando house is the Nelson Mandela Museum, attracting many tourists to the area.

The museum is on Vilakazi Street; the home of Nobel Prize winner Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu is also on this street, making Orlando the only place in the world with a street on which two Nobel winners lived.

The Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum are also in Orlando, which has a number of bed and breakfasts catering for tourists.

In the shadow of a giant
On 3 May 2006, the old stadium was demolished; on 26 September 2008, almost two-and-a-half years later, the new stadium is 98 percent complete. Many people directly involved in the construction and those who live in the vicinity have stories to tell about the old and new stadium.

Greg Weber, the contracts manager at Grinaker-LTA, the main contractors, was on site from the word go.

"As contracts manager for Grinaker-LTA, my work involves overseeing the construction of the stadium. There are 2 205 people working on site and my task is to make sure everyone does his job properly.

"As of 26 September, about 98 percent of the work on the stadium has been done and we are installing the perimeter wall and turnstiles. The pitch grass has been planted in situ and all is looking good for the grand opening on 23 November 2008.

"Fifty percent of the labour is local people who come from greater Soweto. Quite a number of these people have been taken through training in various fields, including plastering, tiling and plumbing. So far 60 have graduated and have been awarded certificates in these competencies.

"We have also struck a deal with four local secondary schools to teach maths and science subjects to local students doing Grade 12. I am pleased to announce that two students have excelled and have been awarded bursaries to further their studies at tertiary institutions after matric.

"After completion, the stadium will be one of the best in the country and I hope the people of Soweto will take pride in it."

Kedibone Mokoena, a receptionist and drawings clerk at Grinaker-LTA, started working on site in January 2007. The 23-year-old Mokoena, who hails from Mapetla, Soweto, says this is her first job since enrolling at Unisa in 2006.

"My job involves sourcing drawings of the stadium from the architects, filing and distributing them to relevant persons on the construction site.

"I never thought I would work at a construction site before with all the dust and noise associated with the industry. But I have come to love my job because I can wear anything I want - like T-shirts and jeans. I intend to stay in the industry even after construction of the stadium is finished.

"As a person who was born and raised in Soweto, I feel so honoured to be part of building this beautiful stadium for the people of Soweto. I am proud to be a Sowetan because of this stadium.

"I used to attend high school soccer tournaments at the old Orlando Stadium when I was a learner at a secondary school just across the stadium in Mzimhlophe. I wasn't a soccer fan then but working here has turned me into a football fanatic.

"I would love to be one of the first people to watch the first football match to be played at the new stadium in November."

Another Sowetan who landed a job at the construction site is 36-year-old Charles Mbobo from Diepkloof Extension Phase 1. Mbobo is a foreman and supervises about 40 workers on site.

"I started working on site in January 2007. My job is basically to monitor the quality of all foam work on site. Mine is a very interesting job because I get to interact with almost everyone working on site.

"I get along very well with those people working under my supervision. I try to motivate them as much as I can and they always get the job done. Currently, I have a crew working on paving and putting up turnstiles outside the stadium.

"I have been working in the construction industry for 13 years but the experience I have gained from working at Orlando Stadium is invaluable. I wish to upgrade myself in the industry and possibly end up as a site engineer one day.

"I love the stadium. It's so beautiful and I wish my team Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates will play when the stadium is officially opened."

A stone's throw from Orlando Stadium lies Mzimhlophe Women's Hostel, which is being renovated. Built in 1965 to accommodate migrant female workers, it was the only such building for women in Soweto. With up to five or six women sharing a single unit, it became an eyesore and a health hazard. Then, in 2002, the blocks were converted into family units under the City's hostel upgrade programme.

Already, rows of colourful two- and three-bedroom rental houses stand next to the old, red brick one-bedroom structures.

Lungelo Vuna, a mother of two who has lived in the hostel since 2004, says the developments here augur well with the building of the new Orlando Stadium.

"I think all the hostels should be done away with because they are not in good condition. The building of Orlando Stadium and all the visitors that will be coming to the new stadium in 2010 would not like to see these old houses that are falling apart.

"As residents of the hostel, we would also not want to see visitors coming to the hostel while we live in such conditions.

"The new stadium is beautiful even from a distance. I haven't had the chance to make a closer inspection of it but I would love to see the inside when it is complete.

"As an Orlando Pirates fan, I wish my team would make Orlando Stadium its home ground so that I will be able to watch all their home games right here in the township.

"I also wish that 2010 will come and find me in a better financial position so that I will be able to attend some World Cup matches at Soccer City Stadium with my children."

Mbali Shabalala owns a nearby spaza shop on the corner of Mooki and Mofokeng streets in Orlando East. Mbali's Spaza, as her shop is known, is well stocked and is conveniently located near Orlando Senior Secondary School.

Shabalala says the new stadium will definitely bring better fortunes for her spaza, where she employs one person.

"I expect more people to flock to the stadium, which is obviously much bigger than the old one. This will result in more business for people like me operating spaza shops in Orlando East.

"I also intend to expand my business and sell fast food and the menu that South African soccer fans love - pap and vleis.

"I would also think of maybe renting one of the kiosks at the new stadium but I still have to find more information on that from the authorities.

"I have been operating my spaza shop for the past five years and I hope the opening of the new stadium will afford me a chance to open up a bigger store in Orlando."

A block away from Mbali's Spaza, Watson Mafhala is an informal trader who has sold fruit and vegetables from his home for the past 23 years. His stall, a rickety affair with an old plastic sheet providing cover for apples, oranges and an assortment of vegetables, stands just outside his yard.

"I remember the old stadium, which used to host many political rallies and schools sports tournaments. It was much smaller than the new stadium and there were very few football matches between big clubs because they were playing in bigger stadiums like FNB Stadium and Ellis Park.

"But with the coming of the new stadium, I know there will be bigger matches being played and I will be able to watch my favourite team, Kaizer Chiefs, play right on my doorstep.

"As for my trading business, I just hope I will make more money because I currently make about R600 profit a month, which isn't much to sustain me and my family in Thohoyandou." He hopes he is not prohibited from trading next to the new stadium.

"My fear is that even if the new stadium opens, I won't be allowed to trade next to it because even at my current trading place I usually get notices from council people that I am not allowed to sell anything from my pavement.

"I have a dream to one day own a bakkie so that I can move around the township selling my wares.

"Come 2010, I hope my life will change for the better with all the visitors expected to come to Soweto."

A visit to Orlando Stadium two years after the old stadium was demolished and a brand-new one built in its place is quite an experience - especially for those "old timers" who used attend matches at the old venue.

One such person is Victor "Bra Vic" Selane, who played school soccer at Orlando Stadium way back in the 1960s, not long after it opened.

A mid-fielder during his heydays at Nigel United Buccaneers Football Club, Bra Vic remembers the day when Mzimhlophe and Ipatleleng primary schools clashed during a cup final at Orlando Stadium in 1961.

"The stadium was abuzz. I was playing full-back for Mzimhlophe under our teacher-coach Maviyo Ngcobo. After a gruelling game, we emerged victorious 2-1 over Ipatleleng.

"I would later become a professional football player for Nigel United Buccaneers, which would later give birth to the famous Kaizer Chiefs Football Club.

"Orlando Stadium was not a venue for soccer only. I remember attending athletics and some boxing matches. I remember some memorable boxing bouts in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1975, Elijah ‘Tap Tap' Makhathini out-boxed former world welterweight and middleweight champion Emile Griffith at the stadium.

"I also remember another exciting match at the same venue when Peter ‘Terror' Mathebula lost his WBC flyweight title to Santos Lacier of Argentina in 1981.

"I was also at the stadium in 1963 during a big jazz festival, the first ever to be held at the stadium, where bands like Malombo wowed crowds. The famous American band the O'Jays also performed in front of a capacity crowd at the stadium in the 1970s.

"The new stadium is beautiful. I haven't had a chance to see the inside but I will definitely attend the opening ceremony in November as a member of the Soccer Legends."




Stadium visits

Email us for visits to Soccer City or Ellis Park. For visits to Orlando Stadium contact 011 375 6855.

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