Don't say we didn't tell you so.
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Fears grow over 2010 football tournament
A giant calabash, the traditional African cooking pot, is rising from the red earth between Johannesburg and Soweto. Two thousand workmen toil into the night to make sure that the vast structure is ready to welcome 94,000 spectators at the opening ceremony of the 2010 Fifa World Cup, two years from this week.
Across the country, foundations are being laid for the first African cup and the biggest party in South Africa since the fall of apartheid.
The Government has seized on the occasion to sink billions of pounds into a creaking infrastructure built for white minority rule but hopelessly inadequate for today's African superpower. In the townships and ministries there is palpable excitement that the cup may finally mark the coming of age of a tender democracy.
Whispering on the sidelines, however, officials and ordinary South Africans fear that the showcase event may yet be overshadowed by violence or the inability of this new-build infrastructure to cope. As one official said: “It could all collapse around our ears.”
Two weeks of xenophobic violence, when mobs burnt or hacked to death 62 foreigners and drove thousands from their homes, has left some people wondering whether South Africa is ready to welcome the world.
“The fact of the matter is that at the moment the people from other countries are the target of this violence,” said Bishop Paul Verryn. “Wouldn't you think very carefully if you were a soccer player or thinking of coming here to watch? Wouldn't you think that you might become a target?”
At a temporary shelter for some of the 100,000 homeless, Carrene Sarkin, a volunteer aid worker, said: “I am scared by the prospect of the World Cup coming here. Between crime and what is happening here, it scares me to bring foreigners here, for their safety.”
The violence is only one hurdle. Some areas have almost no public transport. The country has been paralysed by power cuts after decades of under-investment. By 2010 it will throw open its borders to poor neighbouring countries - which some say will exacerbate tensions.
The construction of five football stadiums costing 8.4 billion rands (£500million) is cause for concern. Soccer City has been held up by the delay of girders from Italy while, the Government noted, the stadiums in Port Elizabeth and Cape Town are “facing challenges of meeting their deadlines”.Ministers insist there is no crisis. “This challenge that we have faced with these so-called xenophobic attacks are not a reflection of ordinary South Africans,” Jeff Radebe, the Transport Minister, told The Times. “There are a few rotten apples that have tarnished the reputation of our country.” The World Cup presented a “revolution” of upgrades, he said.
The roads are getting R70 billion of investment; R20 billion is being spent on expanding airports in Johannesburg and Cape Town, with a new airport in Durban; and R18 billion on the railways, including a high-speed line linking Johannesburg airport, tourist areas and Pretoria.
The works are creating 100,000 jobs. “The major challenge is the issue of skills, the shortage of engineers in South Africa,” Mr Radebe said. The police are hiring 55,000 extra officers, the army is on standby and 45,000 additional police reservists are being drafted in to guard against violence.
Superintendent Vishnu Naidoo, who has been involved with the security plan, had a message for England fans. “They should not be deterred by a minority of people involved in this callous, unacceptable behaviour from coming to South Africa to enjoy one of the world's greatest events.”
Every calabash needs a fire pit. Everyone in South Africa hopes that the players on the pitch, not crime or chaos, will provide the spark.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Don't say we didn't tell you so.