New left field player in Newlands saga
LATEST DEVELOPMENTS: There is a new, left field, player in the Newlands saga – creating a dramatic, new twist.
Wynand Claassen, captain of the Springbok team on the polemical 1981 tour of New Zealand, has filed papers to have the Newlands precinct declared a ‘heritage site’.
If successful, it could halt the sale of the Newlands Stadium by the Western Province Rugby Football Union and South African Rugby Union.
In February WPRFU and SARU announced that the Newlands Rugby Stadium was to be placed on the market in a sealed bidding process.
The deadline for submission of non-binding offers was April 15, with submission of final binding offers on May 31. It was reported that a sale could be concluded on Tuesday, June 7.
Claassen, in an interview with @rugby365com, confirmed that they had applied to the Western Cape government to declare the Newlands precinct in Cape Town’s southern suburbs a ‘heritage site’ in order to ensure the historical stadium doesn’t get demolished.
“It was submitted before the final sale contracts were signed on Tuesday,” Claassen told @rugby365com – adding that he was working off SARU’s timeline, as per their statement issued in February.
While the proposed deadline was Tuesday, it is expected that SARU would only announce the ‘winning bid’ at the end of June.
Claassen said they opted to go the ‘heritage’ route, rather that the legal pathway, because they do not want to get into the political bun-fight that has earmarked the entire Newlands saga throughout the Zelt Marais era.
He described his collection of ‘supporters’ as a “small group” that includes a city planner, someone with a historical planning background and a historical advisor.
“I’m the only rugby person in the group,” he told @rugby365com.
He admitted that he has been in contact with former SARU CEO Rian Oberholzer, who was appointed as the ‘administrator’ when SARU placed WPRFU under administration as a result of the failures of the Zelt Marais administration.
However, he was not willing to get involved in the bidding process, because of the financial implications.
“We simply don’t have that kind of money,” he said, adding: “That is why we opted to have it declared a heritage site.”
He admitted that he is aware no rugby is likely to ever be played at Newlands again.
However, the historical and sentimental value of the stadium means it has to be ‘preserved’ in one way or another.
“I am not talking just as a rugby player, but as an architect.
“The preservation and restoration of this historical building is close to my heart,” said the man who played the first of his seven Tests as captain of the Springboks at Newlands – against Ireland on 30 May 1981.
“Newlands has been in use for more than 130 years.”
The first official match at Newlands took place on 31 May 1890, when Stellenbosch defeated Villagers there in front of a crowd of about 2,400 people.
The following year the stadium hosted its first Test, when a British selection (later to be called the British Lions) toured South Africa.
“I don’t even want to think about it being ‘demolished’.
“It is not just the Newlands Stadium, but the entire precinct – including the brewery, cricket ground, etc.”
He said his group has some “great ideas” about the preservation of the stadium.
“We want to retain part of the field,” he said, adding that it was “very short-sighted” by WPRFU to go down the financial path they did with the stadium.
If Claassen is successful in his bid – he is unsure what timeline the government has placed on the process – Newlands will join a host of other heritage sites in the Western Cape.
These include Table Mountain, De Hoop Nature Reserve, Boland mountain complex, Groot Winterhoek wilderness area, Swartberg mountains, Boosmansbos wilderness area, Cederberg wilderness area, Baviaanskloof and Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden.
Currently, all the WPRFU properties are ‘bonded’ to the Flyt/Dreamworld consortium – which is asking for about ZAR200-million to hand them back to WPRFU and SARU.
In March last year Dream World Investments – an associated company within the Flyt Group – filed formal papers on WPRFU in the Western Cape High Court to recover a loan from WPRFU.
Zane de Decker, the Chief Executive Officer of Flyt Property Investment, confirmed to @rugby365com that Dreamworld filed papers to reclaim their money from WPRFU.
The latest divorce in the WPRFU boardroom follows the decision in June last year when the union’s council – made up of all 90-plus clubs – decided to back President Zelt Marais to walk away from previous deals with Remgro and Investec and accept the ZAR112-million loan from Dreamworld to repay two loans to the former companies.
At the time Marais, in a media release, called the agreement with Flyt ‘the deal of the century’.
However, for the third time in 2020, the WPRFU – under Marais’ leadership – walked away from a signed deal with a benefactor and ended up owing a substantial amount more than what they had borrowed.
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