Tragedy struck the 2010 FIFA World Cup process today, with the death of a construction worker at the Peter Mokaba Stadium site in Polokwane.

The worker was killed at 7.30am when a stack of concrete panels fell over and landed on him. The incident happened about 400 metres from the construction site of the 2010 FIFA World Cup stadium at a pre-cast cement factory facility.

The contractor at the stadium is the WBHO/Pauls JV Construction Company, whose Chairman Mike Wyllie said pre-cast concrete panels are produced and stacked at the factory off site before being transported to the nearby stadium site. The worker died when a stack of panels fell and landed on him.

“We are all shattered. Not only WBHO, but all the construction companies working on the World Cup stadiums really wanted to produce an accident-free World Cup. This is a big blow to everybody. We want to send our heartfelt condolences to the family of the worker who sadly died today. We cannot release his name at this stage until his family has been properly notified,” said Wyllie.

“The safety of workers is the top priority in the construction industry and we are working with the Department of Labour on a full investigation. We have closed the site until Monday and a number of people on site are being counseled,” Wyllie added.

The Chief Executive Officer of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee (OC), Dr Danny Jordaan, also expressed the OC’s condolences to the family of the worker.

“We learnt of the death of the worker at the Peter Mokaba site with great sadness. We would like to send our most sincere condolences to his family. We know the safety of all workers has always been paramount for all the construction companies contracted to build the 10 World Cup stadiums. The incident in Polokwane today highlights, however, the dangers associated with constructing these world-class stadia under very difficult conditions,” said Dr Jordaan.

“There are over 20 000 workers on site daily at all 10 FIFA World Cup stadia. We would like to pay tribute to each and every one of them today. A worker once told me that he was not only helping to build a stadium, but helping to build his country. Every one of the thousands of men and women working day and night on the World Cup construction sites are the real heroes of this project and we would like to salute all of them as we mourn the tragic passing of the worker in Polokwane today,” added Dr Jordaan.

The acting Executive Mayor of the City of Polokwane, Maseriti Legora, also added condolences on behalf of the City.

It was a solemn day of contrasts today at the country’s 2010 FIFA World Cup stadia, with the tragic incident coming on the same day that workers at the Soccer City Stadium site in Johannesburg - which will host the 2010 FIFA World Cup opening match and final - marked one million accident-free hours worked on site by the 2 400 workers at the stadium.

Dr Jordaan joined the workers at an event at the stadium to mark the milestone, along with top former South African internationals Mark Fish, Doctor Khumalo, Phil Masinga and Shaun Bartlett, all of whom were part of the South African team who won the 1996 African Nations Cup trophy at the Soccer City they were visiting.

Over 1 000 workers at Soccer City observed a minute of silence for the worker who lost his life in Polokwane.

At the event the OC's CEO saluted the role of the construction workers at World Cup stadia, saying he would make a proposal to the OC’s Board of Directors that every worker at Soccer City be issued a ticket to witness a FIFA World Cup match in the stadium they helped build.

 “This is a very special arena. It is the beginning and the end of football in
this country. I am going to take a proposal to our Board that all of you must watch one match in the stadium that you built,” said Dr Jordaan.