It is a gigantic stature of architecture, a true mark of visionary progress and a modern version of beauty. It is another form of art that satisfies the aesthetic need of every eye.
The spectacular sparkle of steel metals arches into the blue sky. It is stunning. It radiates the heart of the warm heart of Africa, Lilongwe City.
Standing tall at 56 metres from the ground to the middle point of the arch, Bingu National Stadium (BNS) peers down to people and houses in a majestic way. A colossus.
And on January 2 this year, it hosted its first ever event, a football match between traditional rivals Nyasa Big Bullets and Mighty Be Forward Wanderers. It was an event aimed at testing the facilities before the grand occasion scheduled for January 28, 2017; its official inauguration.
The wait for this day has been long. The nation has been impatient starting from the day the stadium was handed over to Malawi by the Chinese government.
This impatience is understandable. It clearly demonstrates how Malawians value this sensation structure of epic proportion.
Sitting on 32 hectares of land, the national stadium is a modern facility that was designed by experts at Beijing Institute of Architects in China with input from Malawian experts.
“We were involved from the beginning. We developed the concept from which they came up with the design,” says Knight Munthali, chief architect at the Ministry of Transport and Public Works.
After all the ground work like designing was done, construction of the stadium began on July 1, 2013 with the Chinese leading the work and the government of Malawi through the public works ministry supervising it.
Close to 2000 people were involved on the construction site. More than 1000 were local Malawians who provided semi-skilled and unskilled labour. About 800 Chinese graced this work at intervals.
“Foreign expertise came in depending on the nature of work at a particular stage. Whoever has finished would leave,” says Munthali.
There were five divisions working on the stadium encompassing architects, quantity surveyors, landscaping experts, structural engineers and co-building engineers both electrical and mechanical. The work was well coordinated. There was no room for error.
For instance, when it was time to cast concrete, a team of Malawian experts was on the ground verifying that steel is done and laid properly before signing for a go-ahead, according to Munthali.
Thousands tonnage of concrete and steel strengthens this structure. Apart from cement, sand and quarry which were locally sourced, the rest of material including steel came from China.
It was a marathon 29 months of work, free from geological challenges except for the large amount of water found 11 metres down the ground. Preliminary survey of the land had already established the problem and it was taken care of with expertise.
By November 30, 2015, BNS was whole and complete, boasting of modern facilities.
A natural turf obtained from South Africa covers the 100 metre pitch. Floodlights embedded to the arched roof power the pitch. Two huge generators, each carrying 800 kilovolt-ampere (kva), stand guard ready to light the stadium in case of power failure.
It has an up to date public address system too.
There are also 2 well secured VVIP lounges that are presidential and another 2 VIP for senior people like ministers and diplomats with 56 corporate rooms for individual and family booking.
The stadium has also an in-built clinic that will be used by Ministry of Health whenever there is an event.
Moreover, it has two water tanks – about 10,000 litres each, for fire fighting that may become handy for the city council if Lilongwe has no enough water.
On the northern part of the stadium stands a digital score board. It is multipurpose. It can be used as a screen to show movies and when it comes to football, it can be showing the game in progress.
The only shortfall blighting this otherwise magnificent structure is parking space. It is small. The project funds could not provide enough to cover that.
“We tried to convince the Chinese government to give us more but they couldn’t compromise on that. I understood their problem,” says Munthali adding that it is a trend in developing countries to have parking lots very far away from stadiums.
“For instance, in UK parking space is not within the stadium premises. It is elsewhere, people park there and just walk to the stadium,” he says.
Munthali hopes future government projects may cater for that since space is still available.
The stadium has already benefited individuals who took part in the project in terms of capacity building.
“It was a very good experience for us. As Malawian workers, we learnt a lot from the Chinese,” says Munthali. “Their values of coordination, commitment and consistency are admirable. That is why most of their projects beat the deadline by finishing in time or before.”
BNS is expected to host both sporting and non sporting-events. It is an asset that if well utilised will significantly contribute to the social and economic development of the country, according to Minister of Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development Henry Mussa.
There are a number of social and economic benefits attached to this infrastructure.
Firstly, it is the development of various sporting disciplines that the minister feels will benefit many youths in the country.
“It will help the youths to develop with a sound mind through participation in various sporting activities hosted at the stadium,” Mussa added.
Other social benefits include the hosting of events like national independence celebrations and activities significant and symbolic to this nation.
It is undeniable that sporting activities will monopolise the use of the facility. The hosting of major national and international competitions remains the focal point.
With an indoor warming up ground before going into the main turf and a separate nice practicing ground, BNS will be the mother facility for various sporting disciplines.
For so long, soccer has been the dominant sport in Malawi and by far the most patronised. That status is likely to be preserved and enhanced.
While this game will continue to dominate and grow because of this facility, other sporting activities like athletics are also ready to spring into the fray.
Everywhere else in the world, athletes become world class because of investments made in creating better facilities like stadiums.
The construction of BNS has increased the chances of nurturing the growth and development of many athletes here in Malawi.
“This is a blessing to us,” says Godfrey Phiri, president of Athletics Association of Malawi (AAM).
“We have waited so long for a better facility like this stadium. Our athletes lacked a conducive environment to prepare for international competitions like the Olympics,” he says.
Poor performance at the Olympics due to factors like training on poor and bare grounds would no longer be an excuse for Malawian athletes. At least that is the hope of Phiri.
The artificial international Olympic running track available at the stadium inspires Phiri and the rest of the athletes. And there is an electronic timing too.
Currently, recording of time and speed of any athletic sport in Malawi is done manually. It is difficult, ineffective and often inaccurate that cheating is always inevitable.
“The electronic timing will reduce cheating,” says Phiri. “It will show the exact time an athlete finishes a task in a particular sport.”
The athletic chief is also looking forward to the introduction of new sporting activities like steeplechase and hurdling, footraces over a closed track of jumping over water and an obstacle at speed respectively.
Secondly, the potential for economic benefits from the stadium is huge, according to Eric Ning’ang’a. He is the man who has been entrusted to run this mega structure as stadium manager.
“The hosting of football matches is expected to generate a lot of revenue from ticket sales of 40, 000 plus seats.
There are also many spaces for hire as conference rooms, shops and kiosks,” says Ning’ang’a, who was general manager of Likuni Printing Press in Lilongwe before his appointment to the new job.
He says strategic plans for the next five years have already been set. They include the addition of new facilities like an indoor netball court and swimming pools. These, too, are expected to enhance revenue collection.
“The stadium should pay for itself,” says Ning’ang’a in reference to the US$70 million (about K26 billion) concessional loan provided by the Chinese government to be repaid in 20 years.
Future expansion of facilities to accommodate other sporting disciplines is possible. There is enough land for that.
A total of 40 hectares of land was provided by government. The stadium consumed 32. The remaining 8 hectares is reserved for future projects.
Sensitization and care
In an event likely to attract full capacity, BNS will not be a random walk-in-and-sit facility. When spectators walk through the two main entrances to the stadium, they will find small huts that will serve as ticket boxes.
According to Munthali, an individual will get a ticket that will have information like colour of seat, row number, seat number and a letter indicating which gate to go through. If it is western gate, it will be marked “W”, Southern gate “S” and so forth.
Immediately, you enter the stadium, you find row numbers marked on the floor. You pick your row number and follow it to your seat number.
“This is a fixed seat stadium. You cannot sell tickets more than the number of seats. That is why there is a need of having an e-ticketing facility that is not currently available,” Munthali says.
He says this process of getting to seats will be done during big games and there is a need for massive sensitizations. This will be one of the orderly manners of preserving sanity at the stadium.
But as is often the case with humanity, lunacy and stupidity is not always far away. There are fears that vandalism may be the biggest insanity and threat to haunt the stadium.
That is why calls for proper care blare loudly from well-intentioned Malawians including government officials like the Minister of Sports Henry Mussa.
“This is our property. It will serve us and our grandchildren. We have to jealously guard it with the spirit of patriotism, integrity and honesty,” says Mussa.
The national stadium needs protection and preservation because it is symbolic to this nation. It is a monument of pride and significance that exemplifies, in great form, the strides Malawi is making in infrastructure development.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :