Thursday, April 8, 2010
The South African government recently announced a drop in the country’s murder rate, as safety concerns persist ahead of the country hosting the biggest sporting event on the planet. At the same time, the UK-based Telegraph website published an article stating that, because the crime rate in South Africa is one of the highest in the world – only slightly lower than that of Iraq - some of the tens of thousands of English football fans who are expected to descend on the country for the games are virtually certain to die. On Saturday, the murder of Eugene Terre’Blanche, white supremacist leader of the AWB (right-wing Afrikaner political party) only added fuel to that fire.
The world will be shining a spotlight on South Africa in a way that hasn’t happened since Nelson Mandela led the ANC party to power in 1994, effectively ending apartheid. This is the first time that South Africa will be hosting the World Cup, the first time that it will be held on the African continent in the history of the event. The eyes of billions of people all over the world will be focused on the Southern tip of Africa, from the first game on the 11th of June to the final match on the 11th of July. Thirty two countries will be sending teams to compete in the 64 matches of this truly international game.
Since 2004 when South Africa won the draw to host the 2010 World Cup, the ability of this country to host the 30 day tournament safely and successfully has been questioned. Rumours persisted right up until the announcement of the final draw in Cape Town in December, with speculation that the event could be switched to a different country. The infrastructure would have to be in place to welcome and protect the millions of tourists expected to visit the country, as well as the players and all of the fans who will attend this historic competition.
On a visit to New York in November, South African President Jacob Zuma acknowledged that his country is beset by a high crime rate, but vowed it will be prepared to host the 2010 World Cup, while Government Minister Sicelo Shiceka, in a speech to the host cities, said that well over a billion dollars will have been invested in upgrading infrastructure and bolstering security, and he emphasized the economic, social and psychological benefits that could be expected to accrue in the wake of successfully hosting the world’s most-watched sporting event.
Now, ten new stadiums have been built and are ready to go, and the upgrades and improvements to airports, roads, transportation, electricity and telecommunications all seem to be on track.
The question of safety, then, is the most pressing issue for all concerned. Danny Jordaan, Local Organizing Committee Chair, said that the safety of fans and players alike is guaranteed, citing the 41,000 police personnel who will be deployed for the World Cup. In addition, INTERPOL (The International Criminal Police Organization) is sending the largest police force ever to South Africa to ensure that the country is as safe as possible during the World Cup.
Meanwhile, in suburban Johannesburg at Nelson Mandela Square, the countdown continues as the huge scoreboard in this high profile shopping centre shows 63 days to kick-off. The excitement is building. In a recent poll, South African confidence was shown to be at an all time high ahead of the 2010 World Cup. The country is rooting passionately for Bafana Bafana, their home team, and Sowetan fan Joe Modisane says that he is setting up a makeshift shebeen on his street in Soweto, Johannesburg, for the duration of the tournament - complete with television monitors and high spirits. Johannesburg resident Jim Salter, originally from England, took issue with the British newspaper reports, and the other naysayers: “The country will be in such a good mood – it will probably be safer here in June and July than at any other time!”
A sentiment echoed, with fingers crossed, by everyone here.