Rustenburg: a platinum venue
The England football team should feel right at home in Rustenburg - they're being hosted by a royal family. But instead of boasting reserves of gold, this monarchy is in possession of platinum. The Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace was built by King Lerou Tshekedi Moletlegi, the leader of the Bafokeng people who has a 20% share in all the platinum mined in the area.
Rustenburg is historically a mining town and houses two of the world's largest platinum mines, which account for 70% of the metal globally. The town itself was founded in 1851 by the Vootrekkers, but was home to many indigenous groups of people before that. The Bafokeng people are one such group and made their voices heard when they won a legal battle to earn compensation and shares from the mines.
The case was concluded in the late 1990s and the stadium built from the profits of the precious metal. It was originally intended as a rugby venue ahead of the 1995 World Cup but has since been used more for football. It is home to Premier Soccer League team Platinum Stars and only needed an upgrade ahead of the Confederations and World Cup. Its capacity was increased from 38,000 to 44,500, the west stand was given a new, cantilever roof, electronic scoreboards were added and the floodlights and PA system were given a facelift.
While not much had to be done in terms of the stadium, money was put into the building of a world-class sports training facility called the Royal Bafokeng Sports Campus. The facility has two hotels (the English will be staying in the 68-room one), six grass pitches, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and a medical centre. The players don't have to do much more than roll out of bed to find themselves on the football ground and the venue is a only a few minutes' drive away from the stadium where England will play their opening match against USA.
Fabio Capello will no doubt have to pinch himself to believe the venue really exists. Just four months ago, in February, when Capello attended the FIFA coaches' workshop at the nearby Sun City, the team's base camp was not completed. There was concern over the pitches at the campus and the hotel was a mishmash of bricks, steel and dust. The Daily Mail called it "Far from Fab" and the English media were sceptical that the base camp would meet the quality the England team would require.
While the base camp is not quite as ostentatious as the one the team had at Baden Baden in 2006, it has proven to be up to the standard that is required. An elder of the Bafokeng tribe, Joseph Rapetsana, told the BBC, "the England team wanted a world-class pitch, we have provided that. They asked for a world-class accommodation, we provided that. We believe we have more than met their expectations."
While riches reign in the sports precinct, the area around it could be seen as somewhat less desirable. The Phokeng township is still very much a shanty town. Locals are either employed in the mines or run their own kiosks, and problems of unemployment , illiteracy and poverty are in abundance. Their homes are mostly shacks and those are made of tin, as are some of the spaza shops or makeshift kiosks.
Some of these kiosks are even makeshift pubs known as tsisanyamas where there is guaranteed to be a barbeque. Owners of these establishments are hoping to stock up on alcohol and meat ahead of tournament, as many have expressed that they want to play a part in hosting tourists.
Visitors who come to Rustenburg are likely to stay for a few days, because of the vast natural beauty of the surrounds. The town lies nestled at the foothills in the Magalies mountain range and there are many game reserves within close range. The Madikwe Game Reserve, Pilansburg National Park and Kgaswane Game Reserve are some of the top establishments that will be visited. For lovers of other sport, the Gary Player Golf Course is in the area and for those who just want a holiday, the gambling resort of Sun City is a short drive away.
The casino originally belonged to the independent black homeland of Baphuthatswana, when the Apartheid government banned gambling. Baphuthatswana was considered independent by the South African government at the time, although it was never recognised as such by the international community and it allowed for the formation of a 'Sin City' of sorts beyond the country's borders. An auditorium called the Sun City Super Bowl was built for concerts and heavyweight boxing bouts. In later years, the Valley of the Waves, a water-themed park was added, complete with a fake beach. It sounds like WAGs heaven, which makes it convenient that the English better halves will be hosted here.
Rustenburg is said to be the fastest-growing city in the country and so far none of the investments made for the World Cup have been labelled with the white elephant tag, as they have in other places. While this may have something to do with the Bafokeng sports centres being privately owned, it's also because the royal family pour some of the profits back into the community.
Interesting Royal Bafokeng Stadium facts:
• The football pitch is the only one of the World Cup venues that is surrounded by a running track, meaning fans are further away from the action.
• The stadium is not in the Rustenburg CBD, unlike other stadiums, so traffic congestion is not expected in any great degree at thus venue.
Matches to be played in Rustenburg:
• England vs USA (June 12)
• New Zealand vs Slovkakia (June 15)
• Ghana vs Australia (June 19)
• Mexico vs Uruguay (June 22)
• Denmark vs Japan (June 24)
• Second round (1C vs 2D) (June 26)
**The England team are the only team based in Rustenburg