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German engineers crown Johannesburg's World Cup stadium

"Soccer City" is due to be handed over to FIFA in the fall, ahead of the 2010 World Cup. While the stadium upgrade is almost complete, 75 South African workers are still putting the final touches its German-made roof.

Aerial view of the Johannesburg stadium's incomplete roof

Soccer City's new roof is worth about 80 million euros

Johannesburg's biggest stadium is to host both the opening match and the final of the 2010 World Cup. After overcoming a number of delays caused by poor weather and industrial disputes, engineers supervising the venue's modernization are now concentrating on the installation of a new roof manufactured by German engineering company Hightex.

Hightex' headquarters are located in Rimsting, Bavaria. For 20 years now the firm has been regarded as a global leader in stadium roof construction, from design and production through to installation and maintenance.

Past Hightex projects include the roof on South Korea's 2002 World Cup stadium in Pusan, as well as Berlin's Olympic stadium and the tennis courts at Wimbledon.

To complete Soccer City, Hightex has sent a team of specialist engineers from Germany, India, Poland and the Czech Republic to Johannesburg. The bulk of the team, however, is comprised of local tradesmen and laborers unaccustomed to working on such large-scale projects.

"Most of the workers have had no basic technical training, and perhaps very little general school education," Wolf says.

"We've had to train them in almost every aspect of the job: how to tighten screws, how to use wear their protective gear, and how to work safely. We really have to keep an eye out to make sure they're using their safety harnesses properly."

Project manager Michael Wolf briefs local workers at the construction site

Michael Wolf says he will meet his deadline despite poor weather and labor problems

From Germany to South Africa via Thailand

The material Hightex engineers chose for the roof of "Soccer City" is produced by Verseidag, a renowned fibers manufacturer based in the western German city of Krefeld. From there the material is transported to a Hightex partner company in Thailand, where the composite membranes are tailored into custom roofing panels.

"A thermal bonding process is used to fuse the various pieces together to make panels measuring about 400-500 square meters in area," Wolf says. "Then they're folded up, packaged, and shipped to South Africa in a container."

A total of 60 panels cover Soccer City's 30,000 square meters. A Teflon coating means the roof's surface is completely waterproof.

On average South Africa's World Cup venues cost about 350 million euros each. Including the steel supports, Soccer City's roof is worth about 80 million euros alone.

But the Johannesburg project is not the only major contract Hightex won for the World Cup in South Africa. Once Soccer City is complete, many of the workers will head straight to Cape Town to construct a stadium facade.

"I'm looking forward to the change in scenery, but I don't think we'll have an easy time down there," Hightex mechanic Jörg Schwerdtfeger says.

The facade installation is scheduled for winter - South Africa's storm season - but Schwerdtfeger insists that by the time Soccer City opens its gates for the World Cup on June 11, 2010, he and his colleagues will be far away, watching events unfold from another construction site inThailand.

"We're all proud of our work - every one of us," Schwerdtfeger says.

"If we're in another country, working on the next job, we'll tune in to see our stadium on television. We'll even call our families at home during a game to tell them 'look, we built that!'. We put the crown on that stadium."

Author: Ulrich Reimann/Sam Edmonds

Editor: Chuck Penfold

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