JOHANNESBURG, May 19 (Reuters) - Five South African cities will host six matches or fewer in next month's World Cup finals and there is controversy about the decision to build expensive new stadiums in two of them.
Pretoria, Bloemfontein, Polokwane and Rustenburg are all at high altitude. The first three could be bitterly cold at night during the tournament although Rustenburg usually has mild southern hemisphere winters. Nelspruit is in the hot, dry low veld and should be comfortable.
Following are brief profiles of these venues:
South Africa's administrative capital, where presidents are sworn in at the imposing hilltop Union Buildings. The city was headquarters of the apartheid state and Nelson Mandela's 1994 inauguration there had great symbolic significance. Despite still being the capital, this is a small, quiet city, overshadowed by nearby Johannesburg. The approach from the south is dominated by the hulking Voortrekker Monument, a potent symbol of white Afrikaner rule, which commemorates the 1838 defeat of 12,000 Zulus by a small Boer force.
LOFTUS VERSFELD stadium, one of the country's oldest, has been revamped and has a capacity of 50,000. It is the home of two of South Africa's big soccer teams, the Mamelodi Sundowns and SuperSport United, as well the Blue Bulls rugby club. Six matches will be played here.
South Africa's judicial capital, seat of the country's highest court and capital of Free State -- a staunchly Afrikaans province -- it has many stately old buildings. Bloemfontein, which means "Fountain of Flowers" in Dutch, is in the very centre of the country, near mountainous Lesotho. As one of the highest venues, at nearly 1,400 metres, it is likely to be cold, especially at night. Mangaung, the new name for the municipality, means "Place of the Cheetahs" in the Sesotho language.
FREE STATE STADIUM is one of the smaller venues, being upgraded to a capacity of 45,000 and until recently better known for its Cheetahs rugby team. Fans of the Bloemfontein Celtics soccer club, who play here and wear a similar strip to their Scottish namesakes, are known as some of the country's most enthusiastic and noisy supporters. Six matches to be played here.
This eastern city and Polokwane in the north are the two smallest host venues and World Cup organisers say some fans will have to be ferried in and out by buses and planes for big matches because of accommodation shortages.
Nelspruit is capital of the northeastern Mpumalanga province that borders Mozambique and Swaziland. It is the centre of South Africa's big citrus fruit industry and gateway to its most famous game park, the Kruger. This is an area of beautiful mountains and waterfalls.
MBOMBELA, the first international-standard stadium in the province, has an atmospheric setting, nestling in low hills, with 18 orange roof supports resembling giraffes. But construction has been dogged by controversy and scandal, including the murder of a local council politician who blew the whistle on alleged graft. Residents of a run-down township next to the stadium also clashed with police last year in protests over failure to replace schools displaced by the construction and broken promises to deliver electricity, water and other services. Capacity 46,000. Four matches to be played here.
Capital of Limpopo province bordering Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana, and the smallest World Cup venue with a population of only 140,000. Polokwane, a drab small town on the road to Zimbabwe from Johannesburg, is one of the high venues, at 1,300 metres. The area is home of the fabled Rain Queen and also of Africa's totemic "upside-down" baobab tree.
The town became famous as the venue for a congress of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in late 2007 at which Jacob Zuma was elected leader of the party, deposing Thabo Mbeki and eventually becoming South Africa's president last year.
PETER MOKABA stadium, next to an old rugby arena, has been newly built with a capacity of 45,000 and will host four matches. The corner support pillars have been built to resemble baobab trees. Critics say Nelspruit and Polokwane stadiums, far from the footballing centre of South Africa and with no premier league team to host, will be expensive white elephants and the money should have been spent to improve conditions for the poor. Both regions have been hit by violent protests against failure to deliver basic services to the black population 16 years after the end of apartheid.
Centre of the world's biggest platinum mining area in the foothills of the Magaliesburg mountains, northwest of Johannesburg. The city is close to two tourist attractions, the Pilanesberg game park and Sun City, a cross between Las Vegas and Disneyland and an unabashed temple to kitsch.
The ROYAL BAFOKENG stadium is named after the people of the area, who are one of Africa's richest tribes because of platinum. It has a capacity of 42,000. Six matches to be played here. The stadium, home of the Platinum Stars premier league soccer club, is situated in Phokeng, the Bafokeng capital, with modern sports facilities and training fields built by the king, Kgosi Leruo Molotlegi.
(Writing by Barry Moody; Editing by Clare Fallon; To query or comment on this story email email@example.com)comments